State commission revokes Ka‘u Learning Academy’s charter

  • THOMPSON

The state Public Charter School Commission on Monday unanimously voted to revoke Ka‘u Learning Academy’s charter because of multiple violations.

The action came following a three-hour hearing about the matter in Honolulu.

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According to the commission, the school committed a total of 22 violations, including financial and operational irregularities, enrollment discrepancies, and failure to properly maintain student and employee records.

It also was determined that KLA’s purported governing board was improperly constituted and did not meet legal requirements.

The state Department of Education also informed the commission last month that following an investigation of possible test breaches at KLA, students’ 2017 assessment scores will be invalidated, according a statement from the commission.

The investigation found that KLA leadership sought to exclude low-performing students from state assessment testing and provided unearned advantages to students hand-picked for testing in the administration office, among other findings.

Ka‘u Learning Academy is only the second charter school in the state to have its charter contract revoked.

The commission first put the Naalehu-based school on notice for revocation in November after potential charter violations came to light following KLA’s fiscal year 2017 audit.

In April, the state attorney general’s office executed a search warrant at the school, and the commission issued a new “notice of prospect of revocation.”

“For me, I think it was the actions of a few that have truly created a lot of wrongdoings,” said Sione Thompson, executive director of the commission, on Monday afternoon.

Those actions, while not reflective of all charter schools or the Ka‘u community, were “unfortunately egregious enough” for the commission to take action, he said.

Thompson said it’s paramount the commission looks forward to the future, and to make sure “we take care of the students and the families that are being affected by the closure of this school.”

Thompson said he’s “greatly saddened by the actions of the original founders” which have led to what he called misconduct and “educational malpractice that truly stole education away from the students they were serving.”

“The news from the charter commission is unfortunate for our families and community, who will be the most effected with today’s decision,” said Josh DeWeerd, who took over as KLA executive director in April, on Monday. “Public charter schools give families in Hawaii an innovative opportunity in education. The new administration and governing board has diligently worked and rectified all deficiencies. We will be in communication with area schools and families for proper placement of our students.”

According to the commission, KLA opened its doors in 2015, serving students in third grade through seventh grade. The projected student count for the 2018-19 school year was 93.

“The revocation of the charter contract means the school closes its doors immediately,” the commission said in the statement.

Closure notifications will be sent to parents, staff and state agencies. The commission will secure student and financial records and conduct an inventory of school property.

The commission also will notify the school of its decision in writing and share that notification with the state Board of Education within 15 days.

The school has 21 days to appeal the decision to the BOE, which will issue a final decision within 60 calendar days of the appeal filing.

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The commission said it will work closely with the school’s students and their families to assist in the transition and also will work with the DOE on behalf of students and their families who want to transition to a public school.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.