Students fight to save East Falls charter school

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WPVI) -- A group of Philadelphia students are in Harrisburg Tuesday hoping to save their East Falls school.

The bus left Tuesday morning from Eastern Academy Charter School. Students, parents, and teachers are in Harrisburg for an appeal hearing at the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

CEO and Principal Omar Barlow told Action News, "We are prepared, come hell or high water, to fight for our young people."

Last spring, the now defunct School Reform Commission voted to close down the school, but the school community has been fighting since to stay open.

The Board of Education says the decision to close stemmed from a number of factors including academic performance.

Barlow claims the School District of Philadelphia has unfairly targeted this school and others, saying the evaluation process used was flawed and did not take into account the vulnerable, impoverished communities students are from.

"The district created the evaluation rubric. What made the district look good is that in their comparison, they had magnet schools in there," Barlow said. He added, "Every charter school that they have closed has been a charter school led by African Americans."

Barlow says the school of 320 students has a graduation rate of 75% and a college rate of 74%. Families credited the small environment and curriculum for getting students on the right track.

Zakiyyah Salahudin is raising two grandchildren who are current students and explained the change she has seen in them.

"Since they started, I have seen them not only transform but blossom."

Sophomore Kenedi Smith told 6abc, "My grades have went up tremendously. I used to get Cs, Ds. Now here I get all As."

Semaj Coleman in 10th grade has been taking engineering courses offered by Villanova University and said he feels his teachers understand him better here.

"When I came here I had more teachers my skin color, people that understand me."

If the charter school does not win the appeal, they plan to take this fight to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. They have every intention of opening next year.

Imahni Ellison, a spokesperson for the Board of Education, provided the following statement:

"Ensuring quality schools for all children in Philadelphia is the Board's top priority. Charter schools are a critical tool for providing Philadelphia families with high-quality public school choices. Eastern University Academy Charter School, however, is not meeting this mandate."

Last spring, the School Reform Commission conducted a public non-renewal hearing before a hearing officer at which the School District and Eastern University Academy Charter School both presented evidence and had an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses.

The SRC, after a 30-day public comment period, and based on a written recommendation from the hearing officer, concluded that the charter school's charter should not be renewed. This decision was based on the school's academic performance, its failure to execute on its mission to provide an early college experience, and violations of certain laws including those related to English learners and special education students."
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