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Posted at 01:26 PM ET, 02/03/2012

IDEA charter school fights to stay open

The IDEA public charter school leadership was lawyered up when it came to the table Thursday night to fight a proposal to close it down, accusing the D.C. Public Charter School Board of trampling on its due process rights.

The board voted last month to begin revocation proceedings against the tech-centered middle and high school in the Deanwood neighborhood of Ward 7, citing a decade of dismal test scores, discipline issues and high truancy rates. A final decision will be made in a few weeks. Several hundred parents and staff packed a charter board hearing at IDEA (Integrated Design Electronics Academy) to hear school leaders plead their case. The early tone was one of contrition, as IDEA board member David Owens acknowledged that the school needed a top-to-bottom overhaul.

Owens announced that the school’s principal, executive director, chief operating officer and board chairman would step down at the end of the academic year. He also said that the consulting firm TenSquare, headed by Thurgood Marshall Academy co-founder and former CEO Josh Kern (who was offered the charter board’s executive directorship last year), would be working on the school’s restructuring. There would be a new curriculum, new teachers, new everything.

“We recognize the gravity of our situation,” said Owens.

But after the mea culpas, Owens introduced attorney Stephen Marcus, who clearly signaled that the school was prepared to litigate to stay open. He argued that the charter board had violated its own procedures by not giving IDEA a year’s warning that its operating charter would be at risk when it came up for review Dec. 19. He also produced a letter dated Dec. 7, signed by PCSB chairman Brian Jones, with a report attached stating that the school was not a candidate for charter revocation. He asked that the revocation be stayed and that IDEA be allowed to operate until it applies for a renewal of its 15-year charter in 2013.

“IDEA has the right to be treated the same as any other charter school,” Marcus said, to cheers from the standing-room-only audience.

PCSB members didn’t respond to Marcus publicly but said afterward that the board was well within its rights to begin revocation. Jones cited last year’s D.C. Superior Court decision upholding the closure of KIMA (Kamit Institute for Magnificent Achievers) Public Charter School. Judge Michael Rankin ruled that PCSB is “given broad authority by the Congress to use discretion, based on its expertise, in matters affecting educational policy choices.”

Jones said that a school with IDEA’s record has effectively been on notice for a long time. The school offers career and technical training in computer science, computer-assisted drafting and electrical house wiring, along with a JROTC program. But standardized test scores have been bad for a decade: Reading proficiency has never broken 45 percent and has declined over the last four years to just below 40 percent. The re-enrollment rate is less than 60 percent, and just 48 percent of ninth-graders have credits that put them on track to graduate, according to charter board data.

The charter board heard testimony from about a dozen students and parents calling for IDEA to remain open. “The longer I’m here, the better I feel about this school,” said junior Denzel White.

Ruth Mohammad, an IDEA parent, said the 389-student school, which opened in 1998, is an anchor and a presence in the Deanwood neighborhood. “Just like they said about the banks that they were too big to fail, this school is too big to fail in this community.”

Jones said no final determination has been made and that the charter board would take what it heard Thursday night into consideration. The board also asked IDEA to provide more information about its restructuring plans by Feb. 14.

By  |  01:26 PM ET, 02/03/2012

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