A state commission overseeing charter schools on Wednesday released a series of deadlines for improvements to the state’s first charter school, First Place Scholars in Seattle, which has floundered since classes began in September.
By Jan. 5, the school must hire an interim special education director, to replace a contractor who quit in late October. Currently, no First Place teacher is qualified to work with some two dozen kids who qualify for help with special needs.
And by this Friday, the school must describe how it has been meeting those kids’ needs since the contractor left.
The deadlines are part of ongoing negotiations between the commission and First Place following the commission’s rejection of the school’s improvement plan last week. Not only did the school fail to turn in its proposed fixes on time, it hardly addressed any of the commission’s concerns, the commission said in a letter to the school Tuesday.
As a result, the school is now on probation, meaning commission staff will visit monthly to make sure the school is following its charter, a contract that allows First Place to operate as a publicly funded, privately run institution, similar to thousands of charter schools in nearly every other state across the country.
“We’re going to be monitoring this incredibly closely,” Joshua Halsey, executive director of the Washington State Charter School Commission, said in an interview Wednesday. “We want the school to meet the deadlines. We want them to come back into compliance.”
Since classes started, First Place has lost a principal, board president, half of its remaining board and the special education consultant. Problems noted in commission documents range from out-of-date fire drill plans to some staff working without background checks.
First Place must petition the commission if it wants to ease oversight. Halsey said he doesn’t expect that to happen for at least three months. If missing deadlines becomes a pattern, Halsey may suggest other types of corrective action, including possibly revoking the school’s charter.
Along with the monthly visits, the commission also will appoint someone to look over the school’s learning plans to decide which special needs students deserve additional services to make up for time lost during the school’s struggles. Federal law requires that disabled students get the services they need.
First Place must also prove how it is ensuring that staff without background checks aren’t working alone with kids. According to commission documents released Wednesday, background checks on the school’s classroom assistants, business manager, nurse, receptionist, food service manager and all its board members are not complete.
The commission did accept one part of First Place’s corrective action plan: It updated its school calendar to show it will meet the state’s required minimum of 180 school days.
First Place has long been a small private school for homeless children in Seattle’s Central District. Becoming a charter school helped the school expand from about 40 students to about 100.