Local: Education

Expulsions, suspensions could face more scrutiny in D.C. charters

Local,DC,Education,Lisa Gartner

D.C. charter schools could be shut down for failing to report student suspensions and expulsions each month to the D.C. Public Charter School Board, under a new policy being considered by the board.

Currently, the schools -- which serve 41 percent of the city's public school students and are growing rapidly -- generally only risk losing their charters if they're struggling academically or financially. Last spring, for example, Nia Community Public Charter School lost its charter because it never implemented its academic plan.

But during a D.C. Council hearing in February, charter school board leaders revealed that students younger than 8 years old were suspended 434 times from charters last year, marking a 78 percent increase in suspensions of preschool, kindergarten and first-grade students in just two years.

Charters also expelled four of these young students last year -- and 224 students total -- causing lawmakers to question whether charter schools dump difficult students back into D.C. Public Schools. DCPS is preparing a report on how many students enroll midyear after leaving charters.

The new policy would require the 53 public charter schools, across 98 campuses, to log each expulsion and suspension into the school board's computer database. Schools also would need to document attendance data and enrollment fluctuations.

Errant schools would receive "notices of concern" or be put on probation, which could lead to the school's closure.

"That would be an extreme situation of a school not working with us," said Naomi DeVeaux, deputy director of the charter board. "But at some point there has to be a consequence."

Suspension and expulsion data provided by the board show eye-opening anomalies among the schools. At Friendship Collegiate Academy, 8 percent of the 1,231 high school students were expelled last school year. The previous year, 35 percent of students at Friendship Technical Preparatory Academy were suspended for 10 days or more.

The charter school board has always collected this data, but is now preparing to analyze it, DeVeaux said.

David Pickens, executive director of DC School Reform Now, said he's eager to see the results of DCPS' report.

"The bigger issue is if these charter schools are somehow counting out the students they don't want, per se," Pickens said.

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