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What to do if your school closes a month into the year: The case of Walter Palmer charter

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

The scuffle between the Philadelphia School District and Walter Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School may soon create more than 1,000 educational refugees — students in search of desks.

The charter’s founder, Walter Palmer, says the school doesn’t have enough funding to keep its doors open all year. In a telephone conversation Tuesday, Palmer would not provide a specific date by which the school would need to close, but earlier reports suggested Oct. 1.

Palmer charter school serves 1,275 K-12 students at campuses in Northern Liberties and Tacony. Of these, 271 have special education requirements.

Reacting to a letter Palmer sent last week, the Philadelphia School District began mailing notices to parents Tuesday, laying out options for caregivers forced to scramble to enroll their children in other schools. Parents will also be contacted via robo-calls.

As with all residents of Philadelphia, displaced children can register with their neighborhood, District-run schools at any time during the year.

A website accessed through the district’s homepage will become available to Palmer parents Oct. 1-10 in order for them to survey non-neighborhood school options, including charters.

Many charters do not enroll students after the year begins. The District says it will ask some charters — that it deems to be high-performing and that have space — if they would be willing to accept Palmer’s students. No agreements have yet been reached.

"We have moved quickly to put together a process for parents that are looking for other options," said District spokesman Fernando Gallard, who called Palmer charter’s closure "imminent."

Years-long dispute

This is the latest revelation in the ongoing dispute between the District and the embattled charter.

In April, the District announced its intention to revoke Palmer’s charter, releasing a six-page memo citing problems that included poor academic performance, unstable finances and failure of its associated foundation to maintain its nonprofit status.

The District also says Palmer has fraudulently charged the District for students that did not exist.

The dispute between Palmer and the District has been festering for years. In 2005, Palmer signed a charter agreement capping enrollment at 675. When Palmer enrolled students above that number, the District withheld payment, but the Pennsylvania Department of Education instead funneled that money directly to the charter.

The District filed a lawsuit against Palmer charter and, in May, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the District’s rationale.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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