This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis wants to close down the Solomon Charter School in Philadelphia, which opened just months ago.
Solomon, at 1209 Vine St., was authorized by the state Department of Education to open as a cyber charter, providing online instruction to students in their homes.
But in a release, Tomalis said that on three separate visits last fall, state officials found that Solomon was functioning as a traditional school, with students meeting in classrooms and receiving face-to-face instruction from their teachers.
Tomalis said that, as such, it had skirted the brick-and-mortar charter authorization process. While cyber charters are approved by the state, brick-and-mortar charters must get the approval of local school districts.
“The Public School Code is explicit — cyber charter schools are to offer a significant portion of their curriculum through the Internet or other electronic means,” Tomalis said. “Solomon officials have consistently demonstrated their inability to adhere to the school’s governing charter and operate within the confines of the Charter School Law.”
Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite raised the issue of cybers operating as brick-and-mortar schools with the state back in November.
“The School District is concerned that cyber charter schools may be attempting to circumvent the provisions of the Charter School Law by operating brick-and-mortar charter schools,” wrote Hite in testimony submitted to the state’s cyber charter hearing committee.
“The School District … has not given permission for any cyber charter to operate a learning center as a traditional school in Philadelphia.”
As of Oct. 21, Solomon enrolled 195 students, according to the state, almost all of whom lived in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia officials said that as of this month, it had paid $1.03 million to the school for 112 regular education and 26 special education students. These numbers would appear to show that the school had significant attrition since opening in September.
The department cited other “significant and severe” violations, including:
- Failure to pay for the equipment that students needed for online delivery of curriculum and instruction;
- Failure to enroll all employees in the state retirement system;
- “Violating provisions of law from which it has not been exempted.”
PDE spokesman Tim Eller said that the school is entitled to a hearing, which the department will expedite. If Solomon doesn’t seek a hearing, it would surrender its charter at the end of the current school year.
A voice message left at the school asking for comment was not immediately returned.
Additional reporting by Notebook Contributing Editor Dale Mezzacappa.
This story was produced as part of a partnership in covering the Philadelphia schools between WHYY/NewsWorks and the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.