IPS board room

Inside the John Morton-Finney Center for Educational Services, where the Indianapolis Public Schools board meets. (Recorder file photo)

The Indiana Charter School Board voted Dec. 13 to deny charter applications for Emma Donnan Middle School, Thomas Carr Howe and Emmerich Manual high schools by a 3-4 vote, with two board members absent from the meeting.

The three schools were taken over by Charter Schools USA (CSUSA), a privately owned Florida-based company, in 2011 after continuous academic failure under Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS). State education officials declared the schools were no longer failing in March, and ordered CSUSA to apply for a separate charter for each school, just 15 months before the company’s contract with the three schools was set to expire. At that time, IPS indicated in March that it wanted the three schools to return to its control.

While the schools were removed from the authority of IPS for academic issues, many problems persisted under CSUSA’s leadership. Board members raised concerns regarding Howe’s consistent “F” grade from the state, Emma Donnan tests scores being below the state average and the number of students leaving Manual to be homeschooled.

An investigation by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news website, found Manual had one of the highest rates in the state of students leaving school to be home-schooled. Chalkbeat found students at Manual were listed as homeschooled when, in fact, they dropped out. Those students are not included in the school’s graduation calculations, making it seem as though the school has a higher graduation rate than it does.

The three schools now are under the control of the Indiana State Board of Education. The board is expected to make decisions on which organization will operate the schools starting at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year at the meeting on Jan. 15. IPS representatives hope to make their arguments to the state board as to why the three schools should be placed back in its jurisdiction.

“Today’s [Dec. 13] vote provides a path for long-term growth for students on the city’s south side and a positive sustained impact for the communities surrounding Emma Donnan, Emmerich Manual and Thomas Carr Howe,” IPS officials said in a statement released after the board’s vote. “IPS is committed to addressing the individual needs of each school, and the return of Emma Donnan, Emmerich Manual and Thomas Carr Howe to the district will allow continual expansion of sustainable choice options for all students.”

If the three schools are returned to IPS, the district plans on following its innovation model, which would include working with Christel House Academy and other entities to operate the schools.The Indiana Charter School Board will hear arguments and vote at 9 a.m. Jan. 15 at the Indiana State Library, 315 W. Ohio St., on the future of all three schools.

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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