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State School Board Hears Complaints on Dayton Charter
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State School Board Hears Complaints on Dayton Charter

Former teachers of a Dayton charter school brought serious allegations ranging from test manipulation to ethnic favoritism to sexual conduct between students Tuesday to the State Board of Education, which plans to investigate.

Five ex-teachers of the Horizon Science Academy high school in Dayton addressed the board during its public comment period, while two others and a former student submitted written statements. They described a school administration that intimidated staff to discourage questioning or official complaints about various problems, from leaky roofs to school officials reviewing students' standardized test forms to an incident involving students performing oral sex on one another. 

Their testimony Tuesday followed a letter to the board sent in recent weeks from Matthew Blair, one of the teachers testifying, about his experiences in the school in the 2004-2005 school year and the Ohio Department of Education's (ODE) response to his concerns, which he said was dismissive. The department responded to his letter by saying it would look into the allegations again but noted they were years old. (See The Hannah Report, 6/25/14.)

Blair was joined Tuesday by teachers with more recent experience at the Dayton school, including two who'd taught there as recently as the 2012-2013 school year. 

The teachers made repeated reference to the actions of Turkish students, staff and volunteers. The Dayton school is one of many run by Concept Schools, a charter school group affiliated with a Turkish religious figure named Fethullah Gulen. The teachers testifying said Turkish students frequently received less severe punishments than African-American students and that some Turkish teachers came to the U.S. on visas to teach science and math but then worked any number of other positions. The witnesses described some of them as unqualified and related instances where teachers simply showed videos during class most days. 

News reports indicate the FBI had recently raided some schools affiliated with Gulen.

Sen. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) asked about the references to Turkish teachers, saying she'd visited the Dayton school on numerous occasions and had never seen any. State board member Mary Rose Oakar said she'd visited affiliated schools in Cleveland and had not witnessed the types of misconduct described Tuesday. 

Kellie Kochensparger, a teacher at the school until last summer, said any visits by "dignitaries" were carefully choreographed in advance by the school administration to assure nothing appeared amiss. 

"All of the politician visits were very orchestrated," she said. 

Board member C. Todd Jones, noting his experience in the federal government, asked if any of the former teachers had contemplated filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. Some said they'd considered it but feared for their jobs. Blair said he was terminated shortly after forwarding a complaint to the sponsoring organization. Kochensparger said she filed a complaint with ODE but only anonymously, citing the fear of termination.

"Asking questions could get you fired," said Tim Neary, another of the former teachers. 

Members of the state board expressed outrage at the allegations and urged quick action to follow up on the investigation. 

"Inside my blood is boiling," said board member Deborah Cain.

Board member Michael Collins said he wants a report from the department within a week about how it will go about following up on the allegations.

P.R. Casey, legal counsel to ODE, said staff would follow up in the next few days to get more details of the allegations from the teachers as part of its formal response to the complaint. 

"We are your State Board of Education, we are responsible for what's going on," board President Debe Terhar said after the testimony." I want you to understand fully your concerns have not fallen on deaf ears."

Story originally published in The Hannah Report on July 15, 2014.  Copyright 2014 Hannah News Service, Inc.
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