BRONZEVILLE — Two current and former Chicago public school officials told parents Monday that Urban Prep Academy students, teachers and programs will be moved to different buildings next year when the district takes over management of the struggling charter schools.
But district spokesmen later said no final decision has been made on where students will attend school next year, while school leaders have vowed not to let CPS take over without a fight.
CPS officials shared plans for the future of Urban Prep’s Englewood and Bronzeville campuses in a town hall Monday at Abundant Blessings Church, 1316 W. 63rd St.
Last month the Chicago Board of Education voted to tear up papers for both schools in the middle of allegations of sexual misconduct and what district leaders called the financial management “dismal.”.
Urban Prep leaders appealed the decision to the Illinois State Board of Education.
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez previously said both campuses will remain open under district oversight in an effort to preserve the academics, who have long served Black kids. They would continue to function as independent schools or programs under existing high schools, Martinez said. Teachers and staff would be retained, he said.
Alfonso Carmona, the district’s chief portfolio officer, said Urban Prep’s model will remain intact, although CPS will not use the brand name. Students can choose to stay or transfer to a higher academically ranked school, Carmona said.
In the livestream chat of the meeting, two CPS officials confirmed a previous comment that all students staying with Urban Prep would need to be moved to other buildings if CPS takes over supervision.
This contradicts previous messages from other district officials, including Carmona, who wrote in a letter to parents announcing to city halls earlier this month that the board of education vote to rescind the charters still meant that “the campuses of Urban Prep would remain open at their current locations. “
Asked about that Tuesday, a CPS spokesman said district leaders had not made a final call. Both campuses are located in district-owned buildings and it is common for charter schools to relocate if they win appeals like this with the state board of education, a CPS spokesman said.
“CPS will not make any final decisions until [the state education board] has made an official decision on appeal,” according to a district statement. “CPS will continue to work with the Urban Prep Community to maintain the current school model and its goals; to support and train strong, successful, and confident young Black men who they will become future leaders and role models in our communities.”
One parent said she was concerned the CPS acquisition would lead to school closures and divestment in Urban Prep students. Carmona said if the school comes under district control, it will be a “school in its own right.”
“In the meantime, as the school takes two or three years to form, it will be a district-run school with a local school board that will have a huge input into everything that is happening at the school level,” Carmona said.
Problems in schools
The once lauded all-black men’s preparatory school – which boasted college admissions rates of 100% for its seniors – has generated close scrutiny in recent years for his academic performance and his finances. Charter schools are publicly funded but independently operated.
The state had the supervision of Urban Prep West Campus as of 2019 after the Chicago Board of Education voted to revoke the organization’s charter for the West Campus citing concerns about financial mismanagement and declining enrollment.
In June, WBEZ’s Sarah Karp detailed years of investigations into Urban Prep’s finances, including investigations into the use of a Paycheck Protection Program loan and schools’ reliance on predatory loans, credit cards and cash advances to cover costs. School enrollments have declined.
Founder Tim King resigned in July after a report from the CPS inspector general backed allegations that he groomed and abused a student starting when the student was 16, WBEZ reported. The report, released in October ahead of the charter vote, said the student eventually became an employee of the school and continued to receive salaries and benefits years after he stopped working there. according to Chalkbeat.
King denied the allegations and filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the district’s claims about his conductaccording to the Tribune.
CPS leaders then accused Urban Prep leaders of refusing to inform parents of the misconduct investigation. CPS sent its letter to parents on the matter, saying the district barred King from having any involvement with Urban Prep, banned him from all CPS properties, and placed him on the CPS’s “don’t hire” list. district, according to WBEZ.
The council documents also included allegations of financial mismanagement. The district said the school did not provide resources to students with disabilities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, nor did the school hire enough licensed teachers.
The district inspector general is also looking into payroll fraud allegations related to the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
The district will file a response to Urban Prep’s appeal in mid-December, Carmona said. The state board of education will host a hearing featuring oral arguments from CPS and Urban Prep in early January, Carmona said.
A hearing counsel will determine whether Urban Prep’s appeal will be granted or denied in mid- to late January, after which the state superintendent will grant, deny or amend that decision, Carmona said. A final decision for schools could come on January 31 or February 16.
Dennis Lacewell, academic director of Urban Prep, has repeatedly accused district leaders of “misrepresenting the facts.” He said Urban Prep leaders did not receive a report on King’s alleged abuse on Monday from the inspector general’s office until after June. He also said Urban Prep complied with CPS’s requirements to clean up its finances.
“A decision was made and that person resigned. Over the past two years, we have met five of the six CPS Financial Scorecard benchmarks. … The federal government has reviewed our PPP loan and has not notified us of any fraud regarding it,” Lacewell said.
Lacewell said the Department of Children and Family Services also ruled the sexual abuse allegations were unfounded.
Carmona responded, saying Urban Prep executives have not yet sent “formal communications” indicating that the district’s established requirements have been met.
“Indeed, they said they would accept the terms if – and only if – two things happened: one, if we renewed the contract; and two, whether we agree with them that certain allegations will not be included in future reports. It is not legal and the PPP loan investigation is ongoing,” Carmona said.
A second listening session is scheduled for December 19.
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