The charter school’s main building, on Oakland Street. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)


HOT-TOPIC_03The Red Bank Charter School does not engage in “segregative” enrollment practices, the New Jersey Department of Education ruled last week in upholding the school’s latest five-year operating charter.

In letter dated April 16 to the charter school, Acting Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet rejected assertions of bias by Fair Schools Red Bank and the Latino Coalition of New Jersey, and found instead that the charter school “is seeking, ‘to the maximum extent practicable,’ to enroll a cross-section of Red Bank Borough’s school-age population.”

Repollet found that the school’s “recruitment strategies” show that the 20-year-old school is “open to all students in the Red Bank community, without regard to race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, gender identity, or expression or affectional, or sexual orientation. Nor do these recruitment strategies discriminate on the basis of intellectual or athletic ability, measures of achievement or aptitude, status as a handicapped person, proficiency in the English language, or any other basis that would be illegal if used by a school district.”

In addition, the DOE ruled, the school’s implementation of an annual weighted lottery, in which minority-group and economically disadvantaged children get enhanced chances at enrollment, is having a positive effect:

In the first year of the weighted lottery, which is the only school year falling within the relevant time period, the number of Hispanic students enrolled with a sibling preference increased 26 percent and the number of white students enrolled with a sibling preference decreased 11 percent. The supplemental record suggests that as a result of the weighted lottery in favor of economically disadvantaged students, enrollment at RBCS is trending in a direction that better reflects the demographics of the schoolage population in the community.

Here’s the DOE letter: RBCS-DOELetter

In a statement issued late Friday, the charter school said the decision showed that Repollet, appointed by Democratic Governor Phil Murphy, agreed with his predecessor, an appointee of Republican Governor Chris Christie, “that the allegations that the school favored white families to be of no merit.”

From the statement:
“We are glad to finally put this sad chapter behind us,” said RBCS Principal, Meredith Pennotti. “We have all wasted far too much time and money on legal expenses fighting what amounted to a frivolous complaint by groups whose ultimate goal is to shut us down. We remain committed to working with anyone in Red Bank who wants to use their energy and resources for the benefit of all children in the community.”
Pennotti said it was absolutely absurd for the anti-charter groups to claim RBCS favored white families given the diversity of its student body.
“We believe our diversity is our strength, and we strive to be inclusive of all the families in the community,” Pennotti said. “Red Bank is a town rich with diversity. RBCS is proud to offer  children the opportunity to learn and grow in a racially and ethnically integrated school that reflects the community of Red Bank.”
RBCS is among the most diverse schools in the state. For the 2016-17 school year, RBCS was 43 percent white, 43 percent Hispanic and 12 percent African-American and 2 percent Asian. Pennotti said the groups that filed the complaint were invited to see the school but none came.
“Our doors are open to anyone who wants to visit and see our school,” Pennotti said. “If they would have come, they would have experienced firsthand that our school is not what they are claiming.”

Fair Schools and the Latino coalition had appealed the DOE’s February, 2017, renewal of the school’s charter through June, 2022. They alleged the school engaged in “outright fabrication” of data “in a deliberate attempt to mislead the state Department of Education and to perpetuate the myth that the taxpayer-funded 200-student school reflects the pre-K through 8th grade demographics of the community.”

In a statement sent Sunday to redbankgreen by Fair Schools co-founder Wayne Wolley, the group said the DOE had “completely failed” to uphold its duty to “meaningfully scrutinize and correct the practices and procedures of the Red Bank Charter School so that that school does not have a segregative effect on the schools of the District.”

Repollet’s findings, the group alleged, were “based on the charter’s self-serving representations, and without any apparent consideration of the ample and overwhelming evidence to the contrary, evidence which shows, without any doubt, that the Red Bank Charter School makes the publicly-funded schools in Red Bank more segregated, in a state whose schools are already one of the most segregated in the nation.”

Fair Schools is talking to its attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey about “how best to redress the shortcomings of the Commissioner’s decision,” the statement said.

Separately, Lazaro Cardenas, deputy director of the Latino Coalition, told redbankgreen that the organization believes that Repollet  “did not appropriately consider the segregative impact” of the charter school on the local district and is considering an appeal of the decision.