Judge chastises MO education agency, keeps charter school open - KCTV5

Judge chastises MO education agency, keeps charter school open

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JEFFERSON CITY, MO (KCTV) -

A judge had strong words for Missouri's education agency in rejecting their move to close Gordon Parks Charter School.

Cole County Judge Daniel Green said the Missouri Board of Education had violated the state's open-meetings law and abused its power in rejecting the school's efforts to renew its charter.

The school's application met the state law and should be approved, Green ruled.

"Defendants' decision to deny the renewal of Gordon Parks' charter application was unlawful, unreasonable, arbitrary and involved an abuse of discretion," Green wrote. "The state board and DESE did not follow state law in reaching their conclusions."

The state must also pay the charter school's legal costs, which could be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

The judge's decision thrilled the charter school officials and its supporters. A representative for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said the agency was disappointed with the ruling.

This spring, the state board voted to close the school, which is located at 37th Street and Wyoming Avenue. Gordon Parks focuses on high-risk students and was specifically created to recruit, teach and serve high-risk students.

The school served students from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Enrollment for the fall began Tuesday after the judge's ruling was issued Monday. Classes will start Aug. 21. Because of the issues, Gordon Parks will resume serving just kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders. The hope is to eventually expand back to serving students up to fifth grade.

University of Central Missouri is the school's sponsor and had found the school in compliance with federal and state laws.

The university asked DESE in March to renew the charter.

"Unbeknownst to the University or Gordon Parks, DESE made the decision to deny the charter application well before it was even submitted," Green wrote. "DESE based this decision solely on partial MAP data."

State education leaders looked at state test scores. Students in certain grades starting at the third grade take the federally mandated tests known as "MAP."

"DESE compared the MAP scores of Gordon Parks ... to the MAP scores of the entire Kansas City Missouri School District, which included K-12 and also compared the data to the entire state, which included K-12. Because the MAP is only administered from the third grade up, the comparison DESE did was to compare grades 3-5 of Gordon Parks to grades 3-12 of the Kansas City Missouri District and grades 3-12 of the entire state," the judge wrote.

DESE had no data and couldn't determine the academic performance of the charter school's kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders. The state refused to look at data submitted by UCM about the performance of the students in the lower grades.

"Without elaborating on all of the facts, DESE essentially disregarded any information that did not support its premature decision to deny the application prior to its submission," Green wrote.

The judge detailed how state education commissioners in a meeting that wasn't properly noticed discussed the Gordon Parks situation with the state education commissioner on May 13. Green said "the facts are clear" that the meeting wasn't properly noticed.

The education commissioners and education agency leaders refused to allow the school or the university the opportunity to make their case.

"The board heard a one-sided presentation from DESE which used wrong, misleading and incomplete data,' Green wrote. He added that state officials did not undertake "a detailed or extensive evaluation" of Gordon Parks' data.

The judge said he was particularly troubled by the state's refusal to allow school and university officials to make their case or look at evidence that DESE had that supported renewal. The judge also criticized the state for making its decision before an application had even been submitted.

Another charter school that had similar problems was renewed, the judge said.

Those who supported Gordon Parks remaining opening issued a statement:

"In a victory for our children, Gordon Parks Elementary School has been saved, thanks to a Cole County Circuit Court judgment entered this morning renewing Gordon Parks' charter. This is welcome news for the Gordon Parks extended family of students, families, alumni, staff, volunteers and supporters. The Court's judgment means Gordon Parks Elementary School will be able to continue its mission by enrolling and educating students for kindergarten, first and second grade classes this fall. We will have more to say about that very soon. We will need all of the support we can muster to meet and improve upon our ambitious goals enabled by today's favorable court decision. Please stay tuned. Your support of Gordon Parks is deeply appreciated."

DESE officials issued a statement about their disappointment:

"We are disappointed in the ruling. The Missouri Constitution vests supervision of public instruction in the State Board of Education. Charter schools are public schools. The Department believes charter schools have a viable place in public education. However, they all need to be high quality schools. Irrespective of what other services they provide, their most important functions are teaching and learning and the success of the children they serve. We hold all schools in Missouri accountable to the same high standards."

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