SRC meeting takes up charter renewals, code of conduct

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

[Updated, 8:15 p.m.] The School Reform Commission, meeting Thursday evening, ratified a change to its new student code of conduct, heard a staff presentation on the status of charter renewals, and listened to extensive testimony from parents at two charter schools clouded by a scandal.

It was the first action meeting of the SRC that was attended by Superintendent William Hite. In a brief opening statement, Hite said he was "excited to be here in the District in this city at this time," and described the District as "full of so much potential and promise."

The commission followed up on its adoption of a revised student code of conduct last month by responding to concerns that the District’s uniform policy is insensitive to gender-nonconforming youth. The SRC took up a resolution changing the policy and giving latitude to students to dress consistently with their own gender identity. The resolution was approved by a 4-0 vote, which was greeted by a round of applause from student activists who had called for the change.

But speakers from student groups said the District has work to do to ensure effective implementation of the policy.

"We need the District to develop a plan for getting the new code of conduct out." said Anita Bingham, a student at Kensington International Business and member of Youth United for Change. "A lot of people don’t know about the changes that were made." She urged the District to support training of staff and students on the new code and said that students are hoping that new and less-punitive intervention strategies "will bring the suspension rates down."

Dozens of parent supporters of Laboratory and Planet Abacus charters turned out for the meeting, with a series of speakers highlighting the academic successes of the schools, defending the current leadership at the schools, and urging the SRC to renew the charters. But there were dissenting speakers who urged the District to overhaul the leadership to weed out corruption at the schools.

These two schools are among those where the SRC has deferred action on renewals. At Laboratory and Planet Abacus, the District is conducting an investigation after founder Dorothy June Brown was indicted on charges of fraud, along with four other executives.

A report on the status of charter renewals by Doresah Ford-Bey, the executive director of the District’s charter office, noted that although 19 charters have had their renewal requests acted on this year, there are still six charters awaiting renewal. Besides Laboratory and Planet Abacus, they are:

Belmont Elementary Charter, which is still negotiating with the District about proposed modifications of the charter.

-Imhotep Institute and Philadelphia Electrical and Technology, which are under investigation for testing irregularities.

-World Communications, which District officials said had finally provided the financial information required for the renewal process. A vote on this renewal is expected next month.

On another matter, in response to testimony by parent advocate Cecelia Thompson about a lack of response on bus transportation issues this fall, District officials identified the point person for unresolved transportation issues as Linda Parker, and gave out her email address. Thompson said that the wait time was unacceptably long for calls placed to the general student transportation phone number.