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State appeal board upholds decision to close Truebright Academy charter

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The state Charter Appeal Board has upheld the decision of the School Reform Commission to close Truebright Science Academy Charter School.

School District spokesman Fernando Gallard said the decision of the seven-member board was unanimous. Tim Eller, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, confirmed the action.

Gallard said that Truebright has 30 days to appeal the decision to Commonwealth Court. The school will close at the end of this year, unless Truebright persuades the court to issue a stay.

"They will have to ask for a stay and be granted a stay for them to remain open," Gallard said.

Truebright, which is part of a network run by followers of Turkish imam M. Fetullah Gulen, enrolls just over 300 students in grades 7-12. It is located on Roosevelt Boulevard in Olney.

The SRC voted in October 2013 not to renew the school’s charter, which was first granted in 2007 for five years. The District’s charter office identified deficiencies in 2011, when it began the evaluation process, and recommended in 2012 that the charter not be renewed.

In a brief filed with the appeal board, the District argued that Truebright should close due to failure to meet academic goals, lack of a defined curriculum, failure to attract students from its catchment area, not offering world languages or Advanced Placement courses as promised, and not providing students with laptop computers as promised.

Isik Durmus, the school’s dean of academics, told the Notebook last month that its academics had improved — the school met adequate yearly progress goals in 2012 — and that students were issued Chromebooks starting last year.

Truebright attorney Brian Leinhauser said that school officials he spoke to were "disappointed" in the decision, but that the board had not yet decided whether to appeal. He said the board will meet on Saturday.

Leinhauser said that acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq, who sits on the appeal board, cited "academic" deficiencies in the decision, which he said was especially troubling.

"District schools in the catchment area that Truebright is in have lower SPP scores than Truebright," he said, referring to the state’s School Performance Profile that rates schools.

Despite the school’s uncertain future, the state Department of Education earlier this fall awarded it a three-year, $1.2 million grant for afterschool programming. The money is from the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. It was one of 23 grantees in Philadelphia.

The Gulen network has been the subject of federal investigations, and Truebright was sued by several former American employees alleging discrimination. According to opponents, much of the staff and leadership of the school are Turkish.

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