School firm faces loss of Pa. approval

David T. Shulick, an attorney, is Delaware Valley High School's chief executive officer.
David T. Shulick, an attorney, is Delaware Valley High School's chief executive officer. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)

Delaware Valley High School's alternative-education site in Reading is accused of violating state and U.S. laws.

Posted: January 07, 2013

A Bala Cynwyd alternative-education company under federal investigation has been warned it could lose its approval for a disciplinary school in Reading because it allegedly is not complying with state and federal laws.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has told the for-profit Delaware Valley High School it has begun proceedings to revoke its approval because the school did not provide required academic and counseling programs and failed to address violent incidents that endanger students and staff.

According to documents obtained by The Inquirer, state officials sent a letter, reports, and an order Dec. 21 to Delaware Valley's owner - lawyer David T. Shulick - that said its approval to operate a private alternative-education school in Reading should be revoked.

Under state law, private providers need approval from the Education Department to run disciplinary programs for students with problems including chronic truancy and fighting. Delaware Valley has a $1.1 million contract with the Reading School District to run a school for 125 students in grades six to 12.

During a Dec. 11 and 12 site inspection, state officials said they found evidence Delaware Valley administrators had directed staff to falsify incident reports and to exclude incidents from daily logs "to conceal the true nature and extent of violence" and had threatened to sue employees if they called police or discussed their concerns with anyone outside the school.

A report prepared by Drew Schuckman, state coordinator of alternative-education programs, said every Delaware Valley staff member interviewed in Reading "stated that the environment of this facility is dangerous, not safe for students, and most felt unsafe working there."

The state has ordered Shulick's company to respond by Thursday and make major changes by Jan. 14. Tim Eller, department spokesman, said Delaware Valley had not yet replied.

'No factual' basis

"DVHS is prepared to respond to all allegations, and will be doing so in a reply with evidentiary support," Shulick wrote in an e-mail to The Inquirer on Friday. "DVHS believes there is no factual or legal basis for the order to show cause. DVHS declines further comment, but will be responding on Monday."

Sources with knowledge of Delaware Valley's operations said Shulick was expected to vigorously defend operations of the Reading site, which accounts for more than half the private company's annual revenue.

Eller said that when the Education Department receives complaints about alternative-education providers, it usually works with them to address the problems.

He said the department took the unusual step of moving to revoke Delaware Valley's approval in Reading because the violations and concerns "were so egregious and threatened the safety of the students."

He said Education Secretary Ron Tomalis would decide whether Delaware Valley would be allowed to continue operating in Reading.

The department's action does not affect Delaware Valley's site in Warminster, which serves students from districts in Montgomery and Bucks Counties.

But Eller said the problems in Reading were so serious the department was launching an investigation into the Delaware Valley's Warminster campus.

Districts in Montgomery and Bucks are expected to pay the firm approximately $958,000 for 100 students this academic year.

The state's move is the latest development in a recent Delaware Valley saga that includes a federal investigation into the school's operations and its relationship with Chaka "Chip" Fattah Jr., massive layoffs, the loss of lucrative contracts with the Philadelphia School District, and a lawsuit Shulick's firm filed against six former Reading employees in September that blamed them for inciting student violence.

State officials scheduled last month's visit to Reading after receiving complaints from Delaware Valley employees in mid-November about a lack of special-education services and persistent problems with violence, including a brawl that resulted in the arrests of eight students.

State documents show that Schuckman and four other officials from Harrisburg, Reading Superintendent Carlinda Purcell, and five other district representatives reviewed Delaware Valley's operations, examined records, and interviewed staff members.

Among other things the department found in Reading:

Delaware Valley had one counselor for 108 students and that counselor was spending "little if any time" counseling students about disruptive behavior.

Students were receiving less than three hours of daily academic instruction, with afternoons devoted to clubs and unstructured activities the staff called "free for all"; afternoon classes began in late November.

Delaware Valley failed to address violent incidents, including harassment of staff, as well as students defecating in classrooms, roaming the hallways, and engaging in "riots" involving dozens.

Delaware Valley's 14-member staff includes many first-year teachers who were not trained how to deal with disruptive students; a top administrator said training was set to begin Feb. 14.

Although 30 of the 108 students were supposed to receive special-education services, classroom teachers did not know which students qualified; there was only one special-education teacher on the staff.

Students at disciplinary schools are required to receive 21/2 hours of counseling per week, but counseling services were not offered until early December.

Lack of oversight

Overall, state officials said the program Delaware Valley was offering in Reading did not match what the company had described in documents it submitted in 2011 to obtain approval.

The Education Department review also found that the Reading district had failed to provide oversight of the education its students received at Delaware Valley and had not followed federal requirements when it sent special-education students to the school.

The department directed the district to address its own shortcomings and ordered it not to send any more special-education students to Delaware Valley.

And, if the Reading district determines Delaware Valley cannot provide the necessary special-education services, the department said it must remove all its special-education students by Jan. 14.

A spokeswoman for the Reading district did not return phone calls seeking comment Friday.


Contact Martha Woodall

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

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