This story was written by Brad McElhinny

The executive director of the board overseeing charter schools in the state today described concluding an investigation of practices at West Virginia Academy, one of the state’s original charter schools in Morgantown.

James Paul

The review and some corrective actions generally focused on whether West Virginia Academy has appropriate procedures in place to handle situations as they come up — and whether the charter school operates in an open enough manner.

“These corrective actions and the findings in these reports, what they’re intended to do is strengthen the foundation of the school, and I don’t want it to be lost on anyone that WVA is clearly providing an important option for families in the Morgantown area,” said James Paul, the executive director of the West Virginia Professional Charter Schools Board.

“In my conversations with parents and staff and other community members, the quality of the staff and the quality of the academic instruction are almost always lauded in these conversations.”

 

West Virginia Academy was one of the first schools to be approved after lawmakers passed a law allowing charter schools in 2019. Charter schools receive financial support from the state’s public education system and are given greater operational latitude in exchange for the possibility of losing their right to operate if they fail.

The West Virginia Professional Charter Schools Board, with members appointed by the governor, is one avenue for approval of a new charter school — and that board also is intended to provided a layer of oversight.

Karen Bailey-Chapman

Some members of the West Virginia Professional Charter Schools Board advised that the findings should be shared with other schools to ensure they are not repeating some of the same situations that arose at West Virginia Academy.

“I think it might be useful to also share this with the other schools,” said state charter schools board member Karen Bailey-Chapman, “because they may or may not be dealing with some of the same deficiencies.”

Adam Kissel

Board President Adam Kissel agreed. “I think the charter school law tries to minimize the administrative and compliance burden on charter schools by nature, but there are many things charter schools still have to do and policies they still have to have.”

In response to concerns about West Virginia Academy, Paul reviewed documentation and conducted interviews with people who complained, people who were mentioned in complaints, board members, staff and parents. He also visited the school.

Paul described a complaint that included four allegations: failing to maintain a student discipline policy including guidelines for students who are suspended or expelled, improperly amending the parent/student handbook, violating the state ethics act and maintaining a school facility with poor air quality.

Paul said he didn’t find enough evidence to recommend corrective actions, although he did pass along recommendations for the school to implement.

A second complaint included five allegations: that the school violated its own bylaws and the open meetings act when action was taken at a board meeting without a quorum, that the board didn’t participate in required governing board training, that the school lacks required policies under its charter agreement, that the school has conflicts regarding its internal controls — especially with the segregation of financial responsibilities, and that the school was in violation of the state ethics act.

In these instances, Paul said the West Virginia Professional Charter Schools Board should issue several corrective actions, along with some recommendations.

The particular meeting called into question did not violate open meetings guidelines, Paul said, “however, through my investigation, I’ve learned that the directors of the school appear to have considerable email correspondence relating to school matters, which could run the risk of violating the West Virginia open governmental meetings act.”

He advised some changes meant to ensure more clarity on board decision-making. He said the school should develop a whistleblower policy so people could share concerns without fear of retaliation. And he said thorough updates about the school’s finances should be provided more regularly.

John Treu

John Treu, founder and board chairman for West Virginia Academy, wrote a blog post about the investigation, saying the school can relatively easily implement the recommendations and required actions.

“The policy recommendations were procedural and not substantive as the corrective action simply requires that WVA formalize some of its existing practices into formal policies. Specifically, the board has completed its budget process each year and the PCSB determined that a written policy outlining this process is a technical requirement under the charter contract. The second issue related to WVA’s grievance policy,” Treu wrote.

“In any instances where a formal grievance or other complaint has been filed against someone in our organization, WVA has followed appropriate practices to ensure that the person complained about is not part of either the investigative team or the decision-making process in relation to such complaint. The PCSB’s corrective action is for WVA to formalize that practice by adding a specific whistleblower provision to its existing grievance policy.”

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