August 21, 2014

Flanner To Close Because Of Cheating

Flanner To Close Because Of Cheating

Flanner House Elementary School is closing amid allegations of cheating.

Large increases in ISTEP scores in 2013 and this year triggered the investigation.

Despite the news that it’s closing, there was still a flurry of activity in the halls of Flanner, Thursday. But, outside, reality is setting in for those like Bernicestine Wilson

"It's kind of hard. You don't want to hear about your school, or your business getting ready to close," she said.  "There is a little bit of sadness."

Wilson’s granddaughter is a kindergartner at Flanner and now has to find a new place to go to school.   She says her granddaughter will be fine, but mourns for the closing of a place that has meant so much to her and her community.

"I could not have asked for anything better as far as the caring, the way that the teachers teach, and their concerns for the students as a whole," she said.  "I think we have a very caring school."

But, the Indiana Department of Education says Flanner cheated.

Teachers here are accused of writing, revising and editing answers for students on the ISTEP, and giving students questions before the test.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard announced the school's failings on the same day he opened the doors of a new charter school on the near west side.

"When academic fraud is involved, it cuts you pretty deep.  It's bad.  It's bad and we shouldn't be doing that," said Ballard.  "We want every kid to have access to high quality education, that's really what we are trying to do in the city, no matter what kind of school it is.  That's really what we are trying to do.  So, this hurts hard.”

Ballard says the investigation began a day after ISTEP scores were released, but parents weren’t immediately notified because it could have tainted the investigation.

Democratic State Representative Ed DeLaney, who also is intending to run for mayor of Indianapolis, thinks families should have been notified earlier, yet, says the bigger issue is the structure of the charter system. 

He says it’s flawed and believes issues like the ones at Flanner were "inevitable."

"There's just too much cheating going on," he said.  "I think we need a better oversight system.  We don't need to have six or 10 or eight agencies allowed to charter schools.  It should be very few and they should be very harsh on this.  This is very, very bad and it shows you what the pressures are."

DeLaney says the state needs to take a deeper look at the charter school system and describes some of what’s happening as “disturbing.” 

Ballard’s Deputy Mayor of Education Jason Kloth says the city takes academic integrity “very seriously.”

He applauds the oversight at Flanner, saying it worked just as it was supposed to and brought its issues to light.

"I think it's a great example of the process working.  The day after the ISTEP results came out and showed that kind of significant jump, that raised flags for our office," said Kloth.  "We reached out the following day of those results being released to the Department of Education.  So, I actually think this is an example of where all parties involved were doing their part to make sure that we were doing what was in the best interest of students."

Ballard says the city is working to place Flanner students in new classrooms.  His office will hold informal meeting with parents the rest of this week and there is an enrollment fair scheduled for next week.

The school is scheduled to close September 11.

Flanner House of Indianapolis, the United Way Agency, says it’s "saddened" and "disappointed" in the allegations.  The organization shares the same name as the charter school, but the two are not affiliated.

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