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For One Charter School – Pregnant Students Need Not Apply

This piece is part of series that will be look at the requirements of state and locally approved charter schools operating in Georgia.

 

Hope for ALL Students?

EmpowerED Georgia’s Myths piece caused quite a stir.  We received e-mails from parents who had children that had been “kicked out” or “screened out” of charter schools.  We received e-mails that insisted that charter schools are public schools and that charter schools do not have the authority to kick out or screen out kids.

EmpowerED Georgia started looking into the contracts, handbooks, and application processes of charter schools that are operating in Georgia.  We came across a lot of eyebrow-raising practices from both locally authorized and state authorized charter schools.  These practices have largely gone unreported from media outlets and have been largely ignored from charter school/amendment proponents.  We will be highlighting these practices and the need for reform in this and future pieces.

Pregnant Students Need Not Apply

From its research, EmpowerED Georgia found one Georgia charter school that prohibits pregnant students from being entered into the charter’s lottery or from attending the charter school.

According to the charter school’s handbook:

“No student who is or has been pregnant may attend [school’s name]. No student who fathers or has fathered a child may attend [school’s name].”

This practice should not be one that debates the morality of teen pregnancy, but should focus on whether a school that is receiving public funding should be allowed to keep out certain students.

Other questions come into mind.  How is pregnancy proven (if the student is early on in their pregnancy)?  How is “fathering of a child” proven? Does the school require suspected students to take pregnancy or DNA tests?

Recently, a school in Louisiana got into trouble for how they handled the pregnancy issue. Click here for the article

Charter proponents often tout flexibility from regulations and innovation as key strengths of charter schools, but denying pregnant students admittance should not be an allowable flexibility and ignoring the needs of certain students is not being innovative.

One response that EmpowerED Georgia received from its Myths piece was that traditional public schools can “kick out” students too, so we decided to look at this particular charter’s traditional school counterpart.

According to the local traditional school’s handbook:

Pregnant Students

Pregnant students should advise school personnel of their condition as soon as they discover they are pregnant. It may be beneficial to contact the Assistant Principal/Social Worker to explore options.

Pregnant students may receive Homebound instruction only if their pregnancy requires as absence of more than ten (10) consecutive days due to confirmed medical complications. Pregnant students must have a doctor's certification requesting Homebound instruction. All Homebound requests are handled in Social Worker's office.

Expectant mothers and fathers are encouraged to attend school support groups and enroll in parenting classes.

Notice how the local traditional public school is actually attempting to not only address the academic challenges associated with teenage pregnancy, but to help those students through a particularly challenging point in their lives.  The charter spends two sentences addressing the challenge, whereas, the local traditional schools spends an entire paragraph addressing the challenge and supporting the student in whatever way they can (urging student to contact Social Workers, prepare for absences, and participate in parenting classes/support groups).

To be fair, EmpowerED Georgia only found one charter school that targeted pregnant students, but we found many with very strict attendance policies.  The real issue is not how many charters are engaged in the practice of prohibiting pregnant students, but that any charter would be allowed to do so while receiving public funds.

Proponents claim that the charter issue is about putting the needs of students first, but reforms must be put into place that ensures that the needs of all students are addressed.  On this, proponents continue to be silent.

 

You may also be interested in reading:

EmpowerED Georgia's Blueprint to Reform Charter Schools (http://www.empoweredga.org/charter-blueprint.html

8 Myths About the Proposed Charter Amendment

EmpowerED Georgia Empowers Georgians for Public Education

Liza Baril Jackson September 28, 2012 at 02:15 PM
If denying pregnant students is against the rules than it is definitely wrong and it certainly should be dealt with. It does not however make a case against the Charter schools as a whole or show how one is better than the other. There are many rules broken in traditional public schools on a regular basis as well. If we are to discuss the validity of one over the other we need only stick to facts on what each type of school produces.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) September 28, 2012 at 02:35 PM
To quote the story: " The real issue is not how many charters are engaged in the practice of prohibiting pregnant students, but that any charter would be allowed to do so while receiving public funds." I think this is their point.
MP September 28, 2012 at 06:07 PM
EmpowerEd has shoddy reporting. This issue was addressed years ago by the state (notice - NOT the wonderful local board). They also published a pack of lies in their 8 Myths piece - go ahead and check their "facts' out for yourself. They are an unreliable source of information fed by the Establishment to try to sway public opinion on this issue.
Russell Stanton September 28, 2012 at 08:24 PM
To Matt Jones: I have requested you send me the name of this charter school that you referenced at least twice now. Please be forthcoming with an answer, or if not I'll be led to believe that you are lying.
Matt Jones September 29, 2012 at 12:38 AM
MP: We'll be highlighting locally/state authorized charters. The big concern is that the charter was able to operate with the "preg policy" for 7 yrs. We have found that the handbook posted on the charter's website is outdated (and are verifying this with the charter & GA DOE). We care about getting the facts. We will update our piece when we receive verifiable info. 6 yrs have passed without updating their handbook on their website? Interesting, considering that their sports schedules are up-to-date. Regardless, a family interested in attending the charter would look at the website & still read the "preg policy" as a standing rule. We are hopeful that our reporting will lead the charter to update their info to prevent any misunderstandings. As for our "Myths" piece, GCSA has not released an official & detailed rebuttal to the points/concerns that we raise. EmpowerED is not "establishment"; we are a 100% volunteer/grassroots org. Russell: We have no history of your contact attempts via our website (www.empoweredga.org). We have provided the charter name to anyone who requests it, already having fielded many requests today; it is unlikely this is a tech issue. The "preg policy" is a direct quote from the charter's handbook (currently available on their website). No editing. No out-of-context. We are encouraged that so many find this policy objectionable & are hopeful that other charter policies that screen out students will be met with the same objections.
Russell Stanton September 29, 2012 at 03:23 AM
The handbook is not posted on the site. Also, this is a locally-approved school......it is not a state-authorized charter school, so the local district was responsible for monitoring it. As for your "Myths/Facts", they are so off-base as to not warrant a response from anyone serious about this issue. As an example, here is one of your facts: "Fact: True competition can only exist if the same system of rules and regulations are in place for all participating parties. Comparing charters and traditional public schools is like comparing apples and oranges. Charters can kick out students, whereas traditional public schools must educate every child that enters their doors. Charters can mandate parental involvement and acceptable student behavior, whereas traditional public schools have no such authority. Charters can screen students, whereas traditional public schools are committed to educating every child. " Each statement you make here is completely false (if you don't believe me, run this "fact" by Lou Erste at the Charter Division of the Ga DOE). Charter schools cannot "kick out" students any reasons other that what a local district can. They must have a comprehensive discipline policy and must enforce it much like a local district. Also, charters cannot "mandate" parental involvement. Many of them have that as a focus (and even ask parents/students to agree to it), but they have no ability to remove a student if they don't comply.
Russell Stanton September 29, 2012 at 03:26 AM
Also, charters cannot (by law) screen students......they have to take all students that apply. If they have more that apply than they have spaces for, they must conduct a lottery to determine who attends. Your facts are not facts at all....they are merely your opinions, and many of those are severely mis-guided. Again, don't take my word for it. Ask the DOE and they'll let you know how off-base most of your "facts" are.
MP September 29, 2012 at 03:48 AM
Mr. Jones - Thank you for your reply on Baconton. I will await a correction. Regarding your myths piece. Are you telling me that you are waiting for an advocacy organization to rebut this nonsense before you'll publish the truth? That's ludicrous. You should have had the facts right BEFORE publishing it. It is shameful to report in this manner, as your misinformation is damaging to successful schools...and children, many of which will be forced to return to failing schools if the charter sector is pushed out like the districts are trying so hard to make happen. Simply shameful.
Matt Jones September 29, 2012 at 12:57 PM
Again, the policy was a direct quote from the school's online handbook. Six years and no update? All the while, their sports schedules are up-to-date. Because of our piece, it appears that changes are finally going to be made (which is a win for families). Russell, a simple Google search will bring up the charter's handbook. As mentioned, we will be highlighting both locally authorized and state authorized charter schools. We support both and I would invite you to look over EmpowerED's Charter Schools Blueprint. With the case we cite -- per GA DOE info...the local traditional public school in the county made AYP and it appears that the vast majority of students enrolled at the charter are white, whereas the vast majority of students enrolled at the traditional public school are black/Hispanic. We are looking into this further. MP -- thanks for urging us to look at their AYP data! As for the rest, we will be highlighting practices at some charters that will show that families can be punished and students possibly expelled for not complying with particular policies. If the practices are illegal, then action needs to be taken. If the practices are legal, laws need to be changed. And -- if the practices are deceptive to parents and kids, then language needs to be revised. More will be forthcoming in the following weeks. Stay tuned to our website. Have a great weekend! I have papers to grade :)
MP September 29, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Mr. Jones, you did not address my comments on the Myths piece. Why would you publish flagrant lies as fact? Almost everything in this piece can be debunked in 30 seconds flat looking at public documents.
MP September 29, 2012 at 01:46 PM
So let me ask you, Mr. Jones, why is it you would not contact the school directly to inquire rather than make it a media event? I can certainly understand you going for the media juggler if you had made the effort to reach out to the school to inquire first and got no response. It appears to me, taking this approach at, conveniently, this particular time given the upcoming amendment, that you are simply trying to discredit and sway public opinion on the upcoming amendment rather than solve a problem. For a "grassroots" organization, that seems to be a pretty disingenuous approach. You, it appears, are an educator in Toombs County, so no doubt you are unduly influenced by your local school district who vehemently opposes this amendment. I wonder if people realize this about your organization and if you will maintain your credibility, especially in districts where children are in persistently failing schools. You appear to be the proverbial fox watching the hen house. I have no issue with improper activities at traditional OR charter being addressed - each should be addressed promptly and expected to fix an issue if one actually exists. You should request the board minutes of this school to see if the matter was addressed. Searching the internet for outdated handbooks does not make something a current practice. Surely you can do better than that - you are an educator after all, so we should assume that you have good reasoning skills and are resourceful?
Matt Jones September 29, 2012 at 04:09 PM
As previously said, we will be releasing more info. in the coming weeks identifying practices to support our claims in the "Myths." We will not attack any school individually & only named the school via private inquiries. You named the school - we did not. Again, we are waiting for verification & action from the school itself & verification from the GA DOE. Also, that was the only handbook they had on their website; why keep up the outdated handbook for 6 years while keeping their sports page up-to-date? And as we already pointed out, this charter is not in a failing school district. Toombs County Schools, to my knowledge, has not taken a public stance on the amendment and the school board enthusiastically supports the local charter school (SECCA). We are actively engaged in reform through our Blueprints on Charter Schools, Standards, & Standardized Testing. These offer point-by-point plans to address the problems & were created by parents, educators, & community members. We attach our name to everything we do - our organization is run completely by volunteers from all education stakeholders. While it might be "fun" to engage in personal attacks from behind a two-letter screen name, it does nothing to further the quality of education in this state. We would welcome any constructive input you wish to contribute should you wish to attach your name and actions to actively participate in ed. reform - please consider contacting us via our contact page on our website.
MP September 29, 2012 at 06:39 PM
@ Matt Jones - I stand corrected and apologize. You are correct that Toombs County has not taken a stance on the charter amendment, and it is not on the upcoming agenda. GSBA has deep roots in every single system, and every system is a member. They drive the legislative priorities of every district I've seen until today - Toombs does not seem to have any board minutes to show that they are behind GSBA's campaign. I would like to publicly commend them for staying out of the fray. As for SECCA...wonderful school for high school students. The school was named in a blog elsewhere that picked up your blog and has been drug through the mud, despite the fact that they addressed the policy matter years ago and have graduated students who were moms and dads. Should they have an updated handbook? Yes. That is no reason to publish this article, especially since you are still awaiting confirmation from the school and the DOE.
MP September 29, 2012 at 06:39 PM
@ Matt - Your "Myths" piece has also been picked up and people who are not astute enough to know if what you've published is fact or fiction take it for truth. That is misleading the public and absolutely wrong. Why would you publish ANYTHING before having verification of fact? The ONLY answer is to taint public perception on the charter amendment. I support educators who stand up for quality education and commend you for seeking grassroots efforts to improve public education. I did the same thing, just via another avenue. If you truly care about kids - every kid having opportunity for the best academic option for them, then please, only publish factual and current information. The outcome of spreading misinformation could impact 18,000 kids receiving a quality education in a charter environment and countless other children who may be denied an opportunity with future charter options. Half of these are economically disadvantaged youth from districts who have persistently failing schools. You are in an exceptional district - every district does not offer the level of education your district offers.

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