Columbus — The Ohio State Board of Education expressed shock July 15 at accounts of sex games, test tampering and other potentially criminal misdeeds at a Dayton charter school, and vowed to investigate.
At the state school board’s regular monthly meeting, four former teachers at one of 19 affiliated Concept Schools in the state, Horizon Science Academy in Dayton, testified to witnessing sex acts among sixth- through eighth-graders that went unreported to parents, achievement tests that were suspiciously handled and a teacher who called black students “monkeys” and “dogs.”
“Inside my blood is boiling,” board member Deborah Cain said after hearing the testimony. “It is almost incomprehensible.”
Stephen Rudnicki, who taught at the school from 2007 to 2013, said he was assigned to teach physical education, though the school had no gym, and said the school billed as a science academy had no functional science lab until 2012. Early on, it also went without computers and sometimes without food for student lunches, he said.
“Wasting money was a common practice,” Rudnicki said. “The school purchased six, large flat screen TVs but four of them disappeared. Administrators blamed their disappearance on contractors, but refused to file a police report.”
The FBI is investigating charter schools in Ohio and other states that critics allege are associated with the influential U.S.-based Muslim cleric and Turkish scholar Fethullah Gulen. Among allegations are sexual misconduct, test tampering and misuse of public funds. Gulen lives a reclusive life in Pennsylvania.
School Board President Debi Terhar pledged state action as well.
“Your concerns have not fallen on deaf ears,” she said. “We hear you and we will move forward with making sure this is investigated.”
Concept Schools, which operates the 19 public charter schools in Dayton, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Lorain, Springfield and Youngstown under the names Horizon Academy and Noble Academy, claims no affiliation with Gulen and his religious and social movement, often called Hizmet.
“Like any public charter school, we are accountable to the families we serve,” the company said in a statement. “As part of that, we prioritize ensuring a school environment that is safe, professional and one that supports students, faculty and staff. As we have said in the past, our aim is to prepare every one of our students for success.”
The FBI issued search warrants at three Concept Schools in Ohio last month, citing “an ongoing white-collar matter.”
Ohio teachers’ unions and other critics of expanded charter schools in the state have paid keen attention as allegations have mounted against the schools, which received more than $900 million in state funding last year.
Former Dayton teacher Richard Storrick told the state board many of the Turkish employees at the school aren’t actually teaching classes, but are serving as IT coordinators, administrators or in other non-educational positions counter to their visas. Former teachers also testified to witnessing sex-related touching games during class that teachers appeared to condone.
State Sen. Peggy Lehner, a Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said she had visited the Dayton school and hadn’t seen any evidence of the shocking behavior, building damage and administrative chaos described by the teachers.
The witnesses said administrators at the academy carefully orchestrated visits by politicians to show the best side of the school, usually with American teachers as guides while Turkish employees hid when dignitaries were in the building.