The leaders of an embattled D.C. charter school facing concerns about student safety announced Wednesday they are considering shutting down the campus at the end of the academic year.
Charles Moore, chair of the board at Monument Academy Public Charter School, said the board voted Wednesday to recommend that the school close. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that regulators had raised safety concerns about the prominent boarding academy that educates middle-school students who have extensive learning and emotional needs.
The school in Northeast Washington has gained national acclaim for its approach to educating District children whose needs are not easily addressed by traditional public schools.
Moore said the school’s board would decide Monument’s fate by June 8 after gathering feedback from family and staff.
Monument is one of three public boarding schools in the District, with children living on campus five nights a week.
On Monday, the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which oversees the city’s charter sector, cited statistics at a public meeting that it said highlighted chronic concerns about student safety at Monument. Scott Pearson, executive director of the charter board, said the school may be failing to adhere to students’ special education plans, a violation of federal law.
Since the start of this school year, more than 1,800 safety incidents have been reported at the campus, including bullying, property destruction, physical altercations and sexual assault, according to the charter school board. Forty alleged incidents of sexual misconduct and four of sexual assault have been reported.
The school’s budget shows it had planned to cut staff for the upcoming academic year.
Interviews conducted by The Post in recent months opened a window into some issues confronting the school.
“Given the challenges that the school faces, the Monument Academy board voted today on a recommendation that the school consider closure,” Moore said in a statement Wednesday. “That means we will engage families, staff, and other stakeholders on that question.”
The Monument board offered few details about what prompted the decision.
On Monday evening, school leaders defended the academy in front of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, saying many students arrive at Monument with significant trauma and that their behavior improves as they progress in the school. Monument serves about 100 students in fifth through eighth grades.
Moore said the school’s board informed staff members about the potential closure Wednesday afternoon and said employees were concerned mostly with how a closing would affect students.
The deadline to enter the D.C. lottery that places children in schools has passed for the upcoming school year. Typically, when a charter school closes, staff at the charter school board work with students to find seats at other campuses.
All D.C. children have a guaranteed slot at the traditional public school in their neighborhoods.
“The outcome doesn’t define the heroic work of the teachers, houseparents, counselors, and support staff at Monument,” Moore said in his statement. “Their commitment to students is unparalleled and nothing that happens with the school will change that.”
Emily Bloomfield co-founded Monument in 2015 to educate children who come from unstable homes and need round-the-clock structure and mental-health services.
Bloomfield served on the D.C. Public Charter School Board, whose members are appointed by the mayor, until 2014.
Monument has been the subject of laudatory profiles, including one earlier this year in the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s magazine, which described how the school provides a stable home for children who need it.
The school attracted attention — and money — from venture capitalists, lawyers, journalists, doctors and others from throughout the country. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, through their Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, donated $624,500 in grants to Monument, a spokesman for the initiatives said.
In 2017, when the school had about 80 students, Monument received an extra $12,113 in funding for each student from private grants and donations, according to public documents from the D.C. Public Charter School Board. That was on top of the nearly $60,000 the academy received from the city for the boarding and education of each student.
Monument’s demographics are significantly different from those of most D.C. public schools. About 35 percent of students are homeless, according to Bloomfield. More than 60 percent require special-education services. And nearly 80 percent are defined as at-risk, meaning they are in foster care, that they have been held back at least a year in school or that their families receive welfare or food stamps.
“Deciding to [open Monument] was really hard,” Bloomfield said in an interview Monday. “I know the easier thing is not to do this. I know every day why people don’t do this. It’s hard and it’s emotional, and it’s hard to see children and families struggle.”
Valerie Strauss is author of the Answer Sheet blog.