Founder of Closed Charter School Says He Didn't Violate State Law

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBC10 reporter Daralene Jones spoke with Solomon Charter School owner who denies wrongdoing. (Published Monday, Oct 14, 2013)

    The founder of a Philadelphia charter school that was shut down last week spoke to NBC10 on Monday, denying allegations that he broke state law by allowing classes at a building that should have taken place online.

    On Friday, officials with the Solomon Charter School, located on 12th and Vine Street, sent a letter to parents telling them that the school would close for the remainder of the 2013-2014 school year.

    “The Board spent many hours deliberating about how to keep the school open despite safety concerns and financial instability,” wrote David Weathington, the school’s principal.

    Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq said the school’s Board of Trustees voted to surrender its charter to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

    Charter School Shuts Its Doors Abruptly

    [PHI] Charter School Shuts Its Doors Abruptly
    Solomon Charter School leaves families in a lurch, closing its doors abruptly. (Published Friday, Oct 11, 2013)

    Last March, former Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis filed charges to revoke the school’s charter, citing “significant and severe violations of the Pennsylvania Public Safety Code.”

    "Solomon officials have consistently demonstrated their inability to adhere to the school's governing charter and operate within the confines of the Charter School Law," Tomalis said.  "The Public School Code is explicit - cyber charter schools are to offer a significant portion of their curriculum through the Internet or other electronic means.''

    Officials with the Department of Education say the school's founder, Stephen Crane, was given permission from the state to run a “cyber school” which means the majority of the teaching was supposed to occur online.

    The Department's report also claimed Crane, who was a member of the school's board, signed a 10 year lease for the building, even though the state only approved a five year cyber charter program. Officials claim teachers were fired and Crane stopped taking attendance in order to cover up the fact that they were holding classes at the building.

    Facilities for cyber schools, if there are any, should only be used for things like testing or tutoring, according to officials. Despite this, officials claim Crane allowed the majority of the teaching to take place in traditional classes at the Vine Street building, rather than the Internet. 

    “Cyber charter schools that make use of physical facilities for supplemental programs and services must provide equitable access to those programs and services for all students enrolled in the school regardless of where the students live in the state,” wrote a Department of Education spokesman in a written release.

    Records list Crane's real estate firm as the owner of the building where Solomon operated. A state report also claims Crane used a neighboring address to get around the conflict of interest.

    According to officials, the 10 year lease required the school to pay the school building's property taxes and lease payments, even if the school closed.

    On Monday, Crane denied the accusations made against him.

    "The Department of Education has a lot of misrepresentations and if you look at our website, when we get it organized so you can understand it, there will be a lot of facts made straight," Crane said.

    Crane also claimed he didn't receive any profits from operating the school but instead "great losses" in the "six figures."

    NBC10 reached out to the school district and Department of Education to find out how much money the school was making on a monthly basis. We have not yet heard back from them however.

    Weathington claimed one of the reasons for the closure was the fact that the school's building was located next to a sex offender treatment center. This was not mentioned in the Department of Education's report however.

    Weathington says the school received about $300,000 a month from the state but that they didn't receive payment last month because of the issue.

    In their letter to parents, Solomon Charter officials informed them they would be able to pick up their child’s records between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. starting Monday.

    Many parents say they received no advanced notice of the closing and only learned about it Friday morning.

    “When they told me they were closing down, the only thing I could think was what I was going to do with my son,” said Deyanna Bowen.

    Parents say they are currently trying to get their children into another school. The Department of Education is also working with the school’s officials and Philadelphia school district officials to help families make the transition.