Thursday, October 26, 2017

Are Ohio charter schools public schools? They sure don't act like it.

A recent story in the Columbus Dispatch revealed just how averse to public scrutiny the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow is. While I can't say I was shocked, this did strike me as odd, given how much public heat ECOT has been receiving lately. Surely they are savvy enough to be as open and forthright with the public and the media as possible during their time of great duress.

But no.

Instead, they held an ostensibly "public" meeting that it appears the security guard didn't even know was going on. They initially wouldn't allow a member of the media into the board's committee meeting. Then they went into an executive session during their full meeting -- an executive session I'm willing to bet didn't comply with the notice requirements (24-hour posting and inform the media) under Ohio's Open Meetings Law.

And when the meeting was over, the school's top official wasn't able to give the reporter a copy of the documents produced for the ostensibly "public" meeting. I remind you this is a virtual school. They probably have email.

Oh, but the school's "posh" headquarters (the Dispatch's description) had plenty of pictures of politicians up in the hallways, including Ohio Supreme Court Justice Terrence O'Donnell, who is currently hearing a case against ECOT.

I often hear from Ohio charter school defenders that charter schools are "public schools". If so, why don't they act like it? Perhaps this is why the National Labor Relations Board -- the entity that works out labor disputes in the private sector has asserted jurisdiction over labor disputes in Ohio charter schools.

But lest you think this secrecy is restricted to ECOT, in 2014, the Akron Beacon Journal called 294 charter schools and asked them the following questions:

  • Who runs the building?
  • Who is that person’s supervisor?
  • Who is the management company in charge?
  • How does one contact the school board?
  • When does the board meet?
Want to guess how many refused to give all the information? If you guessed 3 out of 4 charter schools, then you win a cookie.

That's right. Only 80 of 294 charter schools willingly gave all the requested information to the Beacon Journal. This information is pretty basic and minimal.

Again, this is not how public agencies are supposed to operate. 

I ask you another question: If any group of public entities -- schools, cities, townships, villages, counties -- were this poorly responsive to you, the taxpayers that pay their bills and salaries, would you stand for it? 

And would you let them get away with calling themselves "public"?

I don't think so.


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