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December 12, 2014 at 3:31 PM

State commission rejects Seattle charter school’s correction plan

Photo by Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times

First Place Scholars in Seattle. Photo by Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times.

The state commission overseeing Washington charter schools has rejected a corrective action plan from First Place Scholars in Seattle, the state’s first charter school.

The plan from First Place, which has floundered since opening in September, was deficient in some key areas and not submitted on time, said Joshua Halsey, the commission’s executive director. As a result, Halsey said he didn’t have enough time to review it.

Now begins a round of stricter negotiations, where Halsey will detail what changes First Place must complete or face losing its charter.

“The next step is to go over (the corrective action plan),” Halsey said. “It will become more prescriptive, as opposed to the school having the ability to pick the plan and how they’re going to go about that.”

School leader Linda Whitehead did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday afternoon.

Since it opened in September, First Place has lost a principal, board president, half of its remaining board and a special education consultant, leaving the school without services for the roughly 20 percent of its students who qualify for help with special needs. The school has long operated as a small private school for homeless children, but it expanded from about 40 students to roughly 100 students when it became a charter this fall.

The state’s charter school commission ordered the school to come up with a plan to fix those problems by Wednesday. The commission moved at its meeting Thursday to not accept the plan because it was deficient and untimely, Halsey said. Commissioners delegated to Halsey the authority to negotiate with First Place.

The corrective action plan and the commission’s response will be made public Monday, Halsey said.

Besides the lack of a special education teacher, state charter officers said First Place is not meeting the promises it made in its charter on a few other points: Some staff have not passed background checks, its safety plan is out of date, and the board doesn’t have enough members to technically do anything besides vote on adding new members or adjourn a meeting.

First Place is the first school to open under Washington’s new charter school law, which has been hailed as one of the strongest in the country and allows for up to eight charters to be opened in Washington each year for five years.

Charters are public schools that are independently run but funded with tax dollars. They are given more freedom to innovate and aren’t bound by many of the rules that govern typical public schools. But in exchange, they agree to a set of goals, called a charter, and can be closed down if they don’t meet those goals.

The commission will meet again next week to discuss First Place, Halsey said.

Comments | Topics: charter schools, First Place

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