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Parents react to sudden closure of Kent charter school

caption: A science classroom at Excel Public Charter School in Kent in 2016.
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A science classroom at Excel Public Charter School in Kent in 2016.

Families are scrambling to pick up the pieces and figure out what went wrong after Excel Public Charter School and Destiny Charter Middle School, both part of the multi-state Green Dot charter chain, announced they are shutting down this month due to low enrollment.

Alycia Jones's son had struggled in public schools. He's in special education, and was spending almost all of his time isolated in special ed classrooms before Jones found Excel Public Charter School in Kent.

The school promised small class sizes, and more time in an inclusive setting with typically-developing peers. After just one year at the school, Jones said, the combination has paid off. "He has progressed in reading this year more than any other year," Jones said.

When school officials called a parent meeting at the school Friday morning, Jones said she was one of only a few parents in attendance. She went in expecting an announcement about something relatively minor, like a change to the school uniform. Instead, school officials told parents that the school would be shutting its doors for good at the end of this school year: one week from Friday.

Jones couldn't believe it. Parents were crying, she said. Now Jones doesn't know what to do for her son this fall. "Especially when you’re dealing with disabilities, not every school works for these kids," Jones said.

Excel didn’t work for everyone.

Several former Excel parents we spoke to pulled their students after a year or two.

Stephanie Lawson said it took one year to figure out that the school was not right for her seventh-grade son. The teachers were mostly inexperienced, Lawson said, especially in working with a student, like her son, who has dyslexia and dysgraphia.

Lawson said the staff struggled to deal with the school’s behavior problems: unruly classrooms, bullying, fights and weapons. She attributed those problems, in part, to a growing number of students enrolling at Excel after getting pushed out of other schools.

“This was their last stop, so to speak - this is the last school that would accept them, and they would have to be there," Lawson said, adding that a staff member told her that while Excel would suspend students, it would not expel them.

Lawson said given all the problems she saw at Excel, she wasn’t surprised to hear the school is closing.

Thirteen publicly-funded, privately-run charter schools have opened in Washington state since they were legalized in 2012. Only nine will remain open after this school year, with a tenth opening this fall in Seattle's Skyway neighborhood.

All four of the schools that have or will close cited financial problems as a primary factor in their closure.

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