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District working to place students from closed Palmer Charter School

So far, officials have found spots in District schools for about one-third of the 640 displaced students. Classes resume Monday.

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

With classes at Philadelphia public schools starting up again on Monday, District officials were working hard to find new placements for students left without a school when the Walter Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter abruptly shut its doors during the winter break.

About 180 Palmer students had been placed either online or in person at the Office of Student Enrollment and Placement as of Friday, said District spokesman Fernando Gallard. When all the Friday enrollments are tallied, he said, he thinks the number will be about 200 — still less than one-third of the 640 or so K-8 students enrolled at Palmer in mid-December.

Most of the parents who have selected a school, about 110, have registered online.

Parents can also seek to enroll their children in another charter school, but the District will not be able to calculate how many students have done that until February, Gallard said, when charters submit their enrollment figures for their January payment from the District. Many charters are reluctant to take in new students mid-year.

"We’ve placed around 200 students, and given the holiday season, I think that’s a good start," said Darnell Deans, a manager in the Office of Student Enrollment and Placement. The office is also helping to place students from Wakisha Charter, which abruptly closed its doors on Dec. 19.

He said many of the parents who had come in person had already researched other schools and knew where they wanted to send their children. The District put a list online of schools with available space. The list, with more than 70 elementary and middle school choices, includes the schools’ scores on the state School Performance Profile.

Palmer has long had financial problems, ending the 2012 fiscal year with a nearly $3 million deficit. The District, which was in a lengthy court battle with the school over enrolling more students than specified in its charter, initially sought to revoke its charter and close it as of July.

But the School Reform Commission dropped the revocation action. Instead, citing academic shortcomings as well as financial irregularities, it voted not to renew Palmer’s charter at the end of this school year. And when the state Supreme Court sided with the District in the court battle over the excess students and the state stopped paying for them, the school did not have enough money to operate.

Palmer was forced to close its high school in October, and those students were given assistance in finding new placements.

On Friday, about 20 Palmer parents came in person to the placement office seeking new schools for their children.

The staff was helping families make choices, Deans said, including around the issue of transportation. If they lived more than 1.5 miles from Palmer, they received free transportation, which is required under the state charter law.

Even though the District does not transport students who choose District-run schools far from their homes, it will continue to do so until the end of this school year for Palmer students who had been receiving free transportation and choose a District school that is more than 1.5 miles away.

But it will not provide the free transportation to students who had not been already getting the service to Palmer.

Deans said that the placement officers were counseling parents eligible for the transportation to find schools that were either very close to their homes or far enough way so that they would continue to get it. Those not eligible for transportation assistance are being counseled to find another school that is closer, Deans said.

Parents leaving the office were reluctant to talk about whether their problems were resolved or whether they were happy with the new schools their children would attend. Two women, who declined to give their names, said that they were satisfied for their kindergarten and 1st-grade children and happy that they would continue to get transportation. Another, who brought her doll-clutching young daughter with her, said she had not found a new school and was "looking to take another route."

The office at District headquarters will be open again from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday for Palmer parents who need to find new placements for their children.

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