Parents are enraged after Charter Schools USA cancelled PTO meetings at a Ft. Myers, Fla. charter school because "various individuals and groups are trying to politicize the PTO."
Now Charter Schools USA is threatening "legal action against parents who use an Internet discussion board to air grievances."
Check out this parent's post:
After reading this ..No wonder our wonderful governor came to visit.... It is amazing how much info is on the internet when you look... I am so po'd at myself for not doing this search before I wasted two years of my time and my childrens time...It is not about OUR CHILDREN...it is about MONEY. This article really makes me question if our governor is getting a kickback. I refuse to put any more money ... into Jonathan Hage's pocket. WE ARE OUT OF THERE>>>AND IF YOU DON"T FOLLOW YOU ARE NOT PAYING ATTENTION.
The editorial the parent had just read:
A charter to profit
The explosive growth of for-profit charter schools in Florida is diverting hundreds of millions of public dollars to businesses that pervert the program's intent.
Who is the Jonathan Hage the parent mentions?
Front-paged at BoomanTribune.
From the same editorial in The St. Petersburg Times on September 22, 2002:
Jonathan Hage, a former Heritage Foundation researcher and political protege of Gov. Jeb Bush, has turned Florida's charter school program into a growing for-profit business empire. Five years after borrowing $5,000 to start up Charter Schools USA, Hage took in $40-million last year [that's 2001] -- almost all of it from the government.
Yes. If only that parent -- and other parents -- had read that editorial in 2002. They're catching on though.
Below, more posts from parents of children at Gateway, a charter school in Ft. Myers, Fla. From today's News-Press.com, "Charter threatens parents with lawsuit":
Charter Schools USA is threatening legal action against parents who use an Internet discussion board to air grievances about Gateway Charter.
Parent Angela Reigelman, who created the virtual forum, received a letter via FedEx on Thursday ordering her to remove the forum. The company also warned other Web contributors Thursday.
"CSUSA has reviewed the Web site and has determined that your and other parents' and other Web site participants' published accusations, comments and statements are unlawful, defamatory and libelous against CSUSA, Gateway Charter School and Dr. Nauss," attorney Lisa MacClugage stated in the letter to Reigelman.
"Accordingly, CSUSA hereby demands that you immediately cease and desist your continuous published libel and defamatory accusations, comments and statements."
Reigelman says the Web forum gives parents an open venue to discuss educational issues.
It's especially critical, she says, after a May 3 letter to parents signed by the PTO's executive board stating: "In light of the fact that various individuals and groups are trying to politicize the PTO, we have decided to cancel all further PTO meetings for the duration of the 2004-05 school year."
More parents' posts from the forum, gscparents. Please excuse the all-caps post, but it's important to read:
From the forum founder, mommamiax3
This message board was created by parents at Gateway Charter School in Fort Myers FL. This is a place where you can leave your thoughts and feelings on GCS anonymously. The good and the bad are welcome here, but without any communication our children cannot succeed. If CSUSA does not listen to us, they will continue to loose good kids and their parents. Not to mention teachers and staff, and in the end they will not only fail the children but themselves too. We can't let that happen, we need to stand together. GCS has 1000+ students that they need to be held accountable for. Let your voice be heard.
THIS IS A QUOTE FROM A REPORT DONE BY LOIS THOME;
Jonathan Hage of Charter Schools USA says, "What we hope to do in this school is create a community where the kids are known by parents, teachers and the principal. It'll have smaller classes, the kids will wear uniforms, and discipline will be strong but it will be a supportive community
COMMENTS FROM ME, CONCERN4KIDS;
JONATHAN HAGE...HAD TO BORROW THE 5,000 TO START CSUSA...LESS THAN 10 YEARS LATER; HE LIVES IN A 1.8 MILLION DOLLAR HOME IN BROWARD COUNTY ... THEY BUILD IN MOSTLY WELL TO DO NEIGHBOORHOODS WHERE CHILDREN ARE WELL CARE FOR, AND IN THESE HOMES EDUCATION IS IMPORTANT. ... ANOTHER MISLEAD PARENT TRIES TO EXPLAIN WHY WE JUST SQEAKED THROUGH ON THE 4TH GRADE FCAT WRITING. ... THEY PROMISE HIGHLY EDUCATED TEACHERS ... YET THEY ADMIT THEY CANNOT HIRE AND AFFORD TO PAY THE SEASONED VETERAN TEACHERS.
I worked there since it opened and parents have no idea of what the staff goes through-- we were never supported! nauss just implements her not-well thought out ideas and gives us a directive with absolutely no support nor training .. [The teachers] are first or second year teachers and do not have professional certification... check out your teacher at www.fldoe.org for your child's teacher certification. ...
Further down, teachermom helps parents find out if their children's teachers are certified:
if you don't find your teacher's name then they are not certified by the state of florida.
From signed on as a GUEST
It is nice to view who is on the board and see that tonight there are 12 guests. I encourage you to join. We are not a bunch of rebels attempting to destroy anyone or the school. ... Charter Schools USA stood in front of all of us made promises, they have not kept their verbal contract. YOU are your child's advocate, I urge you,-DO NOT tolerate the mediocre curriculm and education that our children are receiving from CSUSA. ...
The lawsuit threat:
From today's NewsPress:
The company's demand to close the forum does raise free-speech issues.
"Any action by school officials to remove it raises serious First Amendment concerns," said Robert Corn-Revere, a Washington D.C.-based attorney who specializes in Internet-related free-speech issues. "No one likes to be criticized, but that doesn't make it libelous."
Neither Hage or Senior Vice President Tom Geismar would specify which postings were objectionable.
Nauss said Thursday she hasn't seen the site but is aware of its content. She supports the company's decision to begin legal remedies.
Parent Mary Vance, of Lehigh Acres, was among those who received the attorney's letter ...
"I can't figure out how it was learned I was involved in the message board," Vance said, adding that parents use member names, not their real names. "I'm trying to figure out what I have said or done that is libelous and defamatory. I don't have fear for this. I have concern. To me, it seems like a scare tactic."
Blogger Dan Gillmor speaks up on the story:
I hope the parents in the community remove any actually defamatory statements, if there are any (and the parents deny that there are). ...
But I hope the parents will aggressively defend their right to be critical of a school administration that cancels PTO meetings, ...
Here, meanwhile, is the almost certain outcome in the wider Web community. Many people will now a) link to the story and the online forum; and b) mention the name of the company. (The story was just Slashdotted, which means it's going to get huge play online.)
One result? Before long, if you type "Charter Schools USA" into your favorite search engine, that news story -- and the forum, assuming it stays online, along with some withering commentary about the company -- will be near the top of the rankings. One suspects this will be a consequence that Charter Schools USA did not foresee.
This lawsuit and these parents' predicaments raise so many issues:
1. What if those parents had acted before 2002, when the St. Pete paper wrote its powerful editorial?
2. It takes what it takes to get people involved. These parents will never be the same. They'll question privatization from now on. They'll always check the facts and other views on the Internet.
3. I'd also posit that this charter school business is racist and class-ist. Look at where these schools are built -- in lily-white, upper-class gated communities:
Even more disturbing, the charter businesses are now teaming up with developers of large, and typically higher-priced, subdivisions to build what amount to private schools on the public dime. Though the charter law requires that such schools accept any students, their locations make them convenient only to the homeowners or, in some cases, to company employees. A teacher at a Charter USA school in Miami was also unusually blunt about how discipline works: "We have ways of asking people not to come back. We really operate like a private school."
Editorial, St. Petersburg Times, Sept. 22, 2002
4. Your thoughts?