2 Philly charter schools delay start of classes, 1 could close before then

Universal Daroff Charter School (Google maps)

Universal Daroff Charter School (Google maps)

Two neighboring West Philadelphia charter schools will start the school year at least a week later than planned, and one could close permanently before then.

Daroff and Bluford charter schools notified families Wednesday night that classes would no longer resume the week of Aug. 29.

“Children should not be dropped off at or should not be walking to these school locations during the week of August 29 to September 2,” a message to families said. “This is an evolving situation and more information will be provided in the coming days.”

The schools did not give parents a reason for the delay, but School District of Philadelphia administrators, who oversee the city’s charter schools, have expressed concerns about facility conditions and staffing levels. The school board announced Thursday that it will hold an emergency meeting Friday to determine both schools’ fates.

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According to board documents released Thursday, the meeting could result in Daroff closing immediately and its students transferring to Bluford, which would open on Sept. 6 and remain open only through the end of the coming school year.

The board said in a statement that the district has been in constant communication with Daroff and Bluford representatives to “understand and evaluate the circumstances and assess the charter schools’ ability to safely open and operate this school year.”

“Our priority remains supporting the students, families, and school communities impacted by the current circumstances,” the board said. “We remain committed to engaging in thoughtful and intentional discussions in the best interest of students, despite the realities of legal obligations and contractual constraints.”

The board voted in April to not renew Daroff or Bluford’s charter agreements, citing low proficiency rates in math, English language arts, and science, as well as the schools’ financial viability.

Both schools received their initial charter agreements in 2010 under the district’s Renaissance Schools Initiative.

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Daroff and Bluford appealed the board’s nonrenewal decisions but lost their cases before the state’s Charter School Appeal Board. In the case of Bluford, litigation in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas is still ongoing.

During this time, Universal Education Companies, the schools’ management company, said it would cease working with them when their contracts expired at the end of July.

Since then, the schools have been without “key services required to operate a charter school including staffing and building maintenance,” according to board documents.

At last week’s board meeting, the district’s head of charter schools Peng Chao told the board he had serious concerns about Daroff and Bluford’s ability to serve students due to double-digit staff vacancies and unsafe facilities.

The district and board reached out to the parents of students attending Daroff and Bluford the next day to encourage them to consider enrolling their children in another district school and launched school-specific websites to walk them through the process.

Under a proposed release and settlement agreement, drafted by the board and Daroff and Bluford’s combined board of trustees, Bluford’s enrollment cap will be raised to accommodate a limited number of students from Daroff.

About 1,100 students were enrolled between the two schools during the previous school year. If more students from Daroff apply than there are spaces available, a lottery will be held, according to the agreement.

While Bluford will be allowed to operate through the end of the school year, the board reserves the right to revoke its charter sooner “should circumstances exist that place the health or safety of students, staff or both at risk.”

The board will meet Friday at 9 a.m. to vote on the agreement. The public can attend the meeting in person in the Education Center Auditorium at 440 North Broad St. or online via the board’s website.

The first day of school for students attending district-run schools is Aug. 29.

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