Enrollment at an Oklahoma City charter school being investigated for possible misconduct has plummeted from about 110 students to 30 since a popular principal was terminated last month, people close to the school said Thursday.
Current and former teachers and administrators, including the ex-principal, alleged a laundry list of ongoing deficiencies at Harper Academy, including a shortage of teachers, books and security officers, along with no computers and food being prepared by students.
Tamra Washington said she was fired by text message because she raised concerns about security and male leadership at Harper Academy, 1215 NE 34. Washington said she lost her job on the same day she released students early because of safety concerns and decided to cancel the next two days of school.
“I had been asking for more armed security and male teachers because of the population being served,” Washington said.
The Oklahoma City school district is reviewing the financial and business records of Harper Academy, which serves high-risk students, including dropouts, pregnant teens and those with behavioral problems, including current and former gang members.
The school board could decide to shutter the school, whose contract will be terminated in June if not renewed.
A school staffer who requested anonymity said students have been “dropping out like flies” since Washington left.
Charter schools are independent public schools that are funded by the school district but have their own governing boards. Harper Academy has been in operation for about two months.
Melvin Perry, the school's chief operating officer, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Harvey Bethany, the president of the school's board of directors, disputed claims made by the ex-principal and others, including former teacher Laya Ford.
Ford said she resigned earlier this month because Harper Academy “failed to meet the educational needs and standards of the students.”
“There weren't enough teachers or books,” Ford said.
“They had a class called computer technology but there aren't any computers for the class.”
Ford also said that she witnessed students preparing food — mostly sandwiches — but she did not see them washing their hands.
Bethany acknowledged firing Washington but declined to say why she was let go.
“From the governing-board level, our job is to make sure we have put the proper administration in order to make sure the needs of our students are met,” he said. “At this time we believe that is exactly what is going on, and we are moving forward.”
Bethany said the school has “adequate security,” adding that “our kids are being taken care of” in the classroom.
“Our goal is to ensure that each student achieves great success in individual development and academic goals,” he said.
“I can assure you that they are receiving the maximum opportunities within their studies at Harper Academy.”
Parent Helen Winlow said she is considering other options for her teenage son and daughter. Both children have learning disabilities, but Winlow said Thursday the school has not delivered on its promise to provide a teacher qualified to serve their needs.
Winlow said her 14-year-old son was kicked out of school Tuesday because he refused to clean the bathroom.
“They told me he was disrespectful,” she said.
“He was voicing his opinion because he is not a janitor.”