Education, Tea Party — July 12, 2016

Tea party charter school leader admits becoming a cyber school was simply a way to get chartered

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I wrote my first piece about the Livingston Christian Academy, now called the Livingston Classical Academy (LCA), back in December of 2014. Since then, the group – which hopes to open a school with a curriculum steeped in tea party ideology and right-wing principles – was sent packing by Brighton schools. However, after shopping around, LCA ended up landing a charter as a cyber school by the Whitmore Lake school district last fall:

Having been spurned by other districts, the LCA decided to morph itself into a cyber charter school. Because the rules for cyber charters only require one class to be online, they plan to offer “sex education” online to qualify as a cyber charter and, according to the article, are “looking at a few places to build the school if a charter is obtained this time around”.

You can read my full coverage in reverse chronological order HERE.

LCA is now admitting that they chose the cyber school route simply to get chartered (via WHMI.com):

Academy Principal Cory Merante addressed the cyber component during the meeting, confirming it was sought only so the school could receive charter authorization. “We need to use LCCA to discuss the blended curriculum. You’ll see LCA, you’ll see LCCA. Same school, same idea, same everything. The cyber component was a means to be authorized.”

They even talk about it on their website. They currently have a video on the front page of the site featuring Livingston County Cyber Academy (LCCA) Principal Cory J. Merante. The video has clearly been sliced and diced in the editing process and resembles a video-version of a ransom note with the letters cut-and-pasted from different magazines and newspapers. The pertinent section starts at the 2:00 mark but it’s worth watching the entire thing for enhanced comedic effect:

The cyber component was a means to be chartered. Um… Our curriculum will be blended in the sense that all our schools will have a cyber class requirement. Um… Students will have a device and all classrooms will be equipped with a [EDIT JUMP] technology component. Um, LCCA will have a daily schedule very similar to every other school, um, however the online cyber component can happen outside the school hours.

It’s clear that LCCA is exploiting the cyber schools laws in Michigan in order to operate because they were unable to find a school district that would charter them. The law is worded vaguely enough that they can meet the letter of the law, though not the spirit of the law, by offering a single class via the internet. If you read the State of Michigan’s FAQ on cyber schools, it’s clear that they never intended for it to be a tiny fraction of what the school offers:

Do all cyber charter schools provide 100% instruction online or via the internet?

Answer: No. With few exceptions, all cyber charter schools offer some “in person” instructional opportunities in the form of tutoring, field trips, and various clubs. Some offer traditional seat-time requirements in a blended learning modality (e.g., 50% online and 50% in seats), while some have a short “in-person” orientation period followed by periodic visits for exams, labs, and field trips

A 50-50 “blend” is a far cry from what the LCCA has planned.

When the LCCA first got off the ground after receiving its charter from Whitmore Lake schools, it planned to build a so-called “bricks and mortar” facility outside of the physical boundaries of Whitmore Lake Public Schools. The school district where it was planning to build its school, Hartland Consolidated Schools, was none to happy about it and threatened a lawsuit. The Livingston Educational Service Agency, the intermediate school district for the County, voted unanimously to help them in their efforts to send the LCCA packing. This is from the minutes of their April 13th meeting:

B. Legal Considerations to Support the Hartland Consolidated Schools

On JaOn January 20, 2016, a school district located in Washtenaw County authorized a charter to create a “cyber academy.” Subsequently, on March 3, 2016, the Michigan Department of Education issued a letter to the Superintendent of the school district notifying them that MDE had issued a district and building code to the charter identifying them as a “school of excellence that is a cyber school.”

Since receiving that status, the cyber school has approached the Brighton Township Planning Commission with plans to construct a building “to ultimately provide schooling for 450 Elementary (K-5th), 225 Middle School (6th-8th), 300 High School (9th-12th) students and 120 Children in Day Care.” Their plan states that “School will be in session between approximately 7:30 am and 3:45 pm… (and) the school expects approximately 100 students will participate in before school and after school programs offered by the school.” (Work has begun on the school site.) If approved, the proposed school will be located within the boundaries of the Hartland Consolidated Schools district.

Although we are working with the MASA and possibly other school leadership organizations, it may be necessary to engage the services of a law firm to seek advice and determine action on behalf of the Hartland Consolidated Schools. This proposal seeks permission to have LESA co-lead a legal effort to challenge the cyber school’s likely violation of the law and to share in the legal expenses connected with that effort.

It was moved by Hill and seconded by Fryer that the Board of Education authorize the Superintendent to participate with and support the Hartland Consolidated Schools, including sharing legal costs up to a total of $10,000 without further board approval, in their effort to challenge the construction of a school building by the Livingston Classical Cyber Academy under a charter authorized by the Whitmore Lake Public Schools.

A roll call vote was taken. Cortez voted YES, Hill voted YES, Kaiser voted YES, Fryer voted YES, and Loy voted YES.

The motion carried unanimously.

What the LCA/LCCA folks were attempting to do was to get chartered in by one school district as a cyber school as a means to get a charter – ANY charter – and then carry on with their plans to build a physical building within the confines of a different school district that wanted nothing to do with them. Hartland school officials KNEW that the LCA/LCCA was trying to draw kids away from their district and, under the dog-eat-dog, school-sabotage-school model set up by our Republican legislature and governor, every student counts when it comes to their state funding. This would have been made much easier with a physical building in their district pretending to be a cyber school.

This is, technically, allowed by Michigan law which says that if a board of a school district, intermediate school district, or community college issues a contract for “a school of excellence that is a cyber school”, they may authorize them “to operate outside that school district’s boundaries.” It’s unlikely, however, that lawmakers envisioned “a school of excellence that is a cyber school” being a brick-and-mortar school that simply has its sex education courses online.

Since then, LCCA has had to change its plans and find a place to build in Whitmore Lake. They claim it’s because it was too expensive to build in the Hartland school district and, given the legal battle they would have had to fight, that’s probably true. In the meantime, the compliant Board of Education in Whitmore Lake is allowing them to use classrooms not currently being used by their own schools. In a “surprised, not surprised” turn of events, LCCA will be sharing the building with Livingston Christian Schools, an actual religious school (compared with LCCA which is a barely disguised religious school using a program designed by the ultra-right Hillsdale College Barney Charter School Initiative.)

The school has also taken to Facebook to recruit teachers:

The WMHI reporting contained some other interesting nuggets, as well. For example, LCCA has hired a strong-armed developer who apparently has a history of winning legal battles:

The academy is in the process of looking at different parcels for a permanent home and has hired developer Steve Gronow, who they say is mission minded and believes strongly in what they’re doing so “any foes coming up against the school, will be coming up against Gronow.” It was stated the only temporary, big concern is not funding property but going through everything necessary to build on it and gaining township approvals so they are looking very carefully at where parcels are located that they could build on as “townships are political in nature.”

It’s still unclear where their funding IS coming from (outside of our tax dollars, of course.) In January of 2015, the blog “Glistening Quivering Underbelly” revealed that it is likely an investor in Holly named John Berry.

Finally, there’s this little tidbit:

[LCA President Richard] Streetman said they intend to be good tenants and are hoping for enrollment in the 265 range maximum because of space limitations, with 25 students in a class and two kindergarten sections. He noted the Whitmore Lake Board of Education approved a one year lease, but it could be two although they’re not trying to publicize it. Streetman said it’s not out there or printed but the boards and board presidents will allow an extension when the time comes.

Given the secrecy and deception they are operating under, it’s clear that LCCA has some friends on the school board in Whitmore Lake. These, it should not be necessary to point out, are also lousy character traits for educators of our children.

The one positive step that LCA/LCCA has taken is to remove Pasquale Battaglia from a leadership position in their organization. His involvement made it quite clear what their plans were which I have documented extensively HERE.

  • Sue Ellen Ikens

    I don’t think a charter school can limit enrollment to students who began in kindergarten.

  • Up North Progressive

    The best part about this charter school is the people behind it were a committee of church members tasked with expanding the church’s K-8 school into K-12. Then they ran into Battaglia who sold them on the idea of the Hillsdale Classical charter school model. The irony is, not only is this charter school in competition with the public school districts, it’s also in competition with the church school they were originally supposed to expand to K-12.

  • How can they be classified as a “school of excellence” when they don’t seem to even exist as a school? Maybe it is the quality of all those yet-to-be-hired teachers or the magnificence of the yet-to-be-built facilities or all that wonderful private-and-unaccountable funding.

    • It’s a newish designation created in 2010. It’s given to a new charter that is based in a model that has been proven “successful”. You don’t have to even exist to receive the designation.

      • Char Rochfort

        One wonders, ‘if you don’t have to even exist to receive the designation’, did the SSRRO’s Natasha Baker’s boarding school charter – that never opened and yet Ms. Baker kept the seed money – receive the ‘school of excellence’ designation?

  • It’s like Max Headroom is trying to break through.
    I guess that their excellence does not include oral presentations or film editing.
    They also seem to have picked up one of the diseases from South Pacific:

    You’ve got to be taught
    To hate and fear,
    You’ve got to be taught
    From year to year,
    It’s got to be drummed
    In your dear little ear
    You’ve got to be carefully taught.

    You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
    Before you are six or seven or eight,
    To hate all the people your relatives hate,
    You’ve got to be carefully taught!

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