Phila. cyber charter fights state bid to close it

Posted: April 25, 2013

A Philadelphia-based cyber charter school that the Pennsylvania Department of Education wants to shut down as allegedly not providing cyber education is fighting to survive.

The Solomon Charter School filed a complaint in Commonwealth Court on Tuesday challenging the constitutionality of the state's 2002 cyber charter law and the way it was applied.

The charter school contends that the department is using a more restrictive definition of a cyber charter than state law. Solomon has asked the court to halt the charter-revocation proceedings.

"The school is planning to continue for the 2013-14 year," Wendy Beetlestone, Solomon's lead attorney, said Tuesday. "It has no plans to close its doors."

Timothy Eller, an Education Department spokesman, said that based on an initial review, the filing was a "baseless attempt by the school to interfere with and obstruct the department in the lawful exercise of its authority to oversee cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania and hold them accountable for operating in accordance with their charters and applicable laws."

Based at 1209 Vine St., Solomon opened in September after the department approved its application to operate a cyber charter with a combination of online and classroom instruction.

A total of 142 students are enrolled in grades seven to 10.

Last month, Education Secretary Ronald J. Tomalis began the process of revoking Solomon's operating charter on several grounds, including allegations the charter was not offering a significant portion of its instruction to students online and had not provided the computers, printers, and Internet service it promised in its application.

The secretary said Solomon was acting as if it were a regular charter school with instructors teaching in classrooms.

He said the problems were so serious that he would move to close the school in June.

Most of Pennsylvania's 16 cyber charters provide online instruction to students in their homes. Some also operate centers that provide supplemental services or tutoring.

In the Commonwealth Court filing, Solomon said its founders described a "blended" approach of in-person and online instruction in its application.

And the small cyber also charged that portions of the state cyber charter law violate "due process" provisions of the state constitution because the law does not provide a fair and impartial appeals process. Tomalis, who signed the revocation notice, chairs the state Charter Appeal Board. Lawyers from his department investigated Solomon and would act as prosecutors in revocation proceedings.

Solomon also said Tomalis and the department were wrong when they said the law requires cyber schools to provide "instruction exclusively in a cyber or virtual environment and without the need for students to attend any physical facility."

Solomon said the law only requires cybers to use technology to provide a significant part of their curriculum and to deliver "a significant portion of instruction" to students via "the Internet or other electronic means."

School districts in Pennsylvania oversee traditional charter schools, but the Education Department is responsible for cyber charters, which can draw students from across the state.


Contact Martha Woodall

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

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