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Some changes recommended now that investigation into charter school complaints about West Virginia Academy is complete – WAJR

This story was written by Brad McElhinny

The executive director of the board that oversees charter schools in the state today described the completion of an investigation into practices at West Virginia Academy, one of the state’s original charter schools in Morgantown.

James Paulus

The review and some corrective actions generally focused on whether West Virginia Academy has the proper procedures in place to handle situations when they arise – and whether the charter school operates in an open enough manner.

“These corrective actions and the findings in these reports are intended to strengthen the foundation of the school, and I don’t want it to be lost on anyone that WVA clearly provides an important option for families in the Morgantown area,” said James Paul , the executive director of the West Virginia Professional Charter Schools Board.

“In my conversations with parents, staff and other community members, the quality of staff and the quality of academic instruction are almost always praised in these conversations.”

West Virginia Academy was one of the first schools approved after lawmakers passed a law in 2019 allowing charter schools. Charter schools receive financial support from the state’s public education system and are given greater operational leeway in exchange for the possibility of losing their right to education. operate when they fail.

The West Virginia Professional Charter Schools Board, whose members are appointed by the governor, is one avenue for approving a new charter school — and that board is also intended to provide a layer of oversight.

Karen Bailey Chapman

Some members of the West Virginia Professional Charter Schools Board recommended that the findings be shared with other schools to ensure they do not repeat the same situations that occurred at the West Virginia Academy.

“I think it might be helpful to share this with the other schools as well,” said State Charter Schools board member Karen Bailey-Chapman, “because they may or may not be dealing with some of the same shortcomings.”

Adam Kussel

Board Chairman Adam Kissel agreed. “I think the charter school law by its nature seeks to minimize administrative and compliance burdens on charter schools, but there are still many things that charter schools still need to do and policies that they still need to implement.”

In response to concerns about West Virginia Academy, Paul reviewed documentation and conducted interviews with complainants, people named in complaints, board members, staff and parents. He also visited the school.

Paul described a complaint that included four allegations: failure to enforce a student discipline policy, including guidelines for students suspended or expelled, improperly changing the parent/student handbook, violating the state ethics law and maintaining a school facility with poor air quality.

Paul said he did not find enough evidence to recommend corrective action, although he did pass on recommendations for the school to implement.

A second complaint included five allegations: that the school violated its own bylaws and the open meetings law when action was taken during a board meeting without a quorum, that the board did not participate in required board training, that the school did not have required policies has. According to its charter agreement, the school has conflicts regarding its internal controls – especially with the separation of financial responsibilities, and that the school has violated the state’s ethics law.

In these cases, Paul said the West Virginia Professional Charter Schools Board should take several corrective actions, along with some recommendations.

The specific meeting questioned did not violate open meeting guidelines, Paul said. “However, through my research, I have learned that the school principals appear to have significant email correspondence regarding school matters, which may pose a risk of violation of West Virginia’s Open Government Meetings law.”

He recommended some changes intended to ensure greater clarity in decision-making on board. He said the school should develop a whistleblower policy so people can share their concerns without fear of retaliation. And he said in-depth updates on the school’s finances need to be made more regularly.

Johannes Treu

John Treu, founder and board chairman of West Virginia Academy, wrote a blog post about the study and said the school can implement the recommendations and required actions relatively easily.

“The policy recommendations were procedural and not substantive, as the corrective action simply requires WVA to formalize some of its existing practices into formal policies. Specifically, the board has completed its budget process each year and the PCSB has determined that a written policy describing this process is a technical requirement under the charter contract. The second issue related to WVA’s complaints policy,” Treu wrote.

“In all cases where a formal complaint or other complaint has been made against someone in our organization, WVA has followed appropriate practices to ensure that the person complained about is not part of the investigation team or decision-making process in relation to such cases. complaint. The PCSB’s corrective action is for the WVA to formalize this practice by adding a specific whistleblowing provision to its existing complaints policy.

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