An embattled Memphis charter school could shut down as soon as next month for “egregious” misconduct under a revised recommendation from Shelby County Schools.
The district found that 60% of teachers at Southwest Early College High School do not have proper licensing for the classes they are teaching and the school has neglected to provide required services to students with disabilities.
Revoking a charter and shutting a school during the semester is extremely rare. The revised timeline could interrupt students’ classes mid-semester.
Deputy superintendent John Barker said the investigation findings necessitated closing the school before the end of the semester.
“The students’ welfare dictated we look for other options as soon as possible,” he said.
As of last month, about half of the 72 11th grade students have left the school, which is in its third year of operation, amid the controversy.
A few parents and students attended the board’s work session Tuesday evening with signs emblazoned with the school’s logo saying, “Don’t believe the false accusations. We have the truth!” and “Southwest has licensed teachers.”
Parents told Chalkbeat they were drawn to the school because of the possibility of students graduating with an associate’s degree in addition to a high school diploma.
Southwest High CEO and principal Ashley Smith did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening.
In a district presentation posted online that board members skipped over during their meeting Tuesday, staff in charge of charter school compliance cited board policy approved earlier this year that allows for immediate closure for “egregious acts of malfeasance by the charter school.”
A hearing where charter school leaders and the district can present their case to board members is scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday. The board is expected to vote on the revocation the following day at its monthly board meeting.
Southwest’s board chairwoman Sharon Jones previously told Chalkbeat the school plans to appeal the decision if the Board of Education votes to revoke the school’s charter. If Southwest appeals and the State Board of Education upholds the district’s decision, the school would close Jan. 7, according to the district’s recommendation. If the school does not appeal, the school would close Nov. 8.
The local community college that partnered with the high school plans to rescind its agreement at the end of the school year because of heavy staff turnover and lack of social and emotional support for students.