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Truebright charter appeals shutdown order to Commonwealth Court

Photo: Kimberly Paynter | WHYY

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

Charter schools are supposed to be nimble and innovative, but the process to close an underperforming charter is anything but. Six weeks after the Charter Appeal Board voted 7-0 to deny Truebright Academy Science Charter’s bid to stay open, the school in the Olney neighborhood of North Philadelphia has taken its case all the way to Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court.

Truebright is one of five Philadelphia charter schools now going through the non-renewal process. It can take years from when a school district announces the intent not to renew a school’s charter until the classroom doors actually shut permanently.

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission voted to trigger the non-renewal of Truebright’s charter — along with those of Arise Academy and Community Academy — in 2012. Both of those schools are still wading through the non-renewal process as well.

At the end of each school’s five-year charter, the SRC recommends renewal or non-renewal. The SRC can revoke a charter at any point during a school’s charter term.

Eighteen strikes

The SRC voted not to renew Truebright’s charter for not making significant progress or meeting standards for 18 different measures.

According to the SRC’s ruling, these include failing to make "adequate yearly progress (AYP) in every year during the Charter School’s current charter term," failure "to provide adequate academic supports and program implementation for English Language Learners and for students with special needs," and having less than 75 percent of professional staff certified.

In 2011, nine teachers filed unfair hiring complaints against the school, alleging that Truebright hired and promoted Turkish nationals, many of whom lacked teaching certificates, at the expense of more experienced and certified American-born teachers.

One teacher brought a discrimination lawsuit against the school, which was settled out of court in 2013.

The school opened in 2007 and is one of more than 100 charter schools in the United States affiliated with Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish expatriate. Gülen, a preacher, now reportedly lives in exile in the Poconos region.

School District spokesman Fernando Gallard says he believes the Commonwealth Court will uphold the Charter Appeals Board and SRC decisions to close the school.

"It’s not just precedent," said Gallard. "There’s a list of facts driving the non-renewal."

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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