Troubled cyber charter school ignores state's demand that it close

John Craig
John Craig
Posted: July 02, 2012

BOARD MEMBERS of the Philly-based Frontier Virtual Charter High School discussed plans on Saturday to hire 16 teachers and grow the student population during the upcoming school year.

This would seem like unremarkable news, of course, except for one little thing: State Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis made it clear in a June 13 letter to Frontier's CEO, John Craig, that the school has no hope of opening in the fall.

An ongoing state investigation had found that the school — which made headlines in March, when the teaching staff was suddenly laid off — had extensive violations of the Charter School Law.

"There is no indication that Frontier Virtual School could provide an appropriate education to students who may enroll ... in the 2012-2013 school year," Tomalis wrote to Craig.

Tomalis laid out a crystal-clear ultimatum: if Frontier's board didn't meet by June 22 and voluntarily surrender its charter, the Department of Education was going to file charges to have the charter formally revoked. The cyber-school's leaders apparently chose a third, unmentioned option.

"They said they sent a proposal to [the state] to keep the school open, and they're waiting to hear back," said Chris Kristofco, whose wife, Amanda, taught at the school until the staff was laid off.

"They're planning to hire 16 new teachers," said Kristofco, who attended the meeting, "and start the year with 55 students, and grow to 200 by the end of the year."

It's unknown if the state has indeed received a counterproposal from Frontier, or if the Department of Education has already filed charges to have the charter revoked. A spokesman for the department did not respond to a request for comment.

Kristofco said that he asked about the June 13 letter from Tomalis to Craig, which was reported in the Daily News last week.

"They said it was false, and that the Daily News was not a reputable source," he said.

Craig did not respond last week to a request for comment about Tomalis' vow to revoke the school's charter. Brian Leinhauser, an attorney who is now representing the school, could not be reached for comment.

The People Paper began reporting on the school's academic and financial woes in March, when the staff was suddenly laid off and parents began complaining that their children weren't being educated.

Records showed that many of the school's 85 students were habitually truant or failing their classes.

Tomalis said in his letter that the school failed to provide students with promised computer equipment and courses that were a vital part of the school's curriculum. Tomalis also said that the school failed to monitor student attendance and academic performance.

Contact David Gambacorta at 215-854-5994, gambacd@phillynews.com and on Twitter @dgambacorta.

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