Philly School District seeks testimony to decide Truebright charter school's fate

File photo: Truebright Science Academy supporters hold their posters high at a SRC hearing. It is one of more than 130 charters nationwide run by followers of a Turkish imam that are drawing scrutiny.
File photo: Truebright Science Academy supporters hold their posters high at a SRC hearing. It is one of more than 130 charters nationwide run by followers of a Turkish imam that are drawing scrutiny. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff)
Posted: September 19, 2012

The Philadelphia School District is trying to compel a former administrator from the Truebright Science Academy Charter School to testify during a hearing on whether the school should remain open.

The district filed documents last week in Common Pleas Court seeking a subpoena to force Susan Farley-Ellison, who had been a high-ranking administrator, to testify about the school's operations at a charter-renewal hearing.

The North Philadelphia charter school, which is linked to a controversial Turkish imam, is fighting to remain open. In April, the School Reform Commission said it would not grant the school a new operating charter on 18 grounds, including poor academic performance and lack of certified teachers.

After the school appealed, the district began hearings in July.

Farley-Ellison was the charter's supervisor of curriculum and instruction for a year. She left in July 2011.

She had received a subpoena from the district directing her to testify during the renewal hearing in August. But district-issued subpoenas cannot be legally enforced. And Farley-Ellison's attorney told the district she could not appear because she was "legally precluded from appearing and testifying. . .," according to court documents.

Current and former Truebright teachers said they believe the former curriculum supervisor reached some kind of settlement with the charter's board when she left.

Michael J. Hawley, the attorney who represents Farley-Ellison, said Monday that he could not comment on a settlement but said, "There are terms and conditions from her separation from Truebright which I am not able to discuss and neither is she."

In the documents filed in Common Pleas Court for a subpoena that can be legally enforced, the district said it needed Farley-Ellison to testify because she "has knowledge of important facts regarding the grounds for nonrenewal of the charter."

She was one of the highest-ranking Americans ever employed by Truebright. The charter school's administrators and board members and many of its teachers are Turkish nationals, many of whom are working in the United States on nonimmigrant visas.

The district has asked Common Pleas Court to hold a hearing related to subpoena request on the Sept. 27.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said Truebright's renewal hearing at the district is expected to resume in October.

Truebright said in a news release last week that preliminary results from the state Department of Education indicate the school met the academic benchmarks under the federal No Child Left Behind law for 2012. The school fell short in 2011.

Truebright is one of more than 130 charters nationwide run by followers of Imam M. Fetullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the Poconos.

The FBI and the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education are looking into allegations of kickbacks by Turkish teachers at the charters nationwide, according to sources with knowledge of the inquiry.

Bekir Duz, Truebright's chief executive officer, has denied that the school is part of a Turkish charter network or under federal investigation.


Contact Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.

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