Pa. Department of Education threatens to revoke Delaware Valley High School's approval to operate in Reading
January 9, 2013By Matthew Grady for NewsWorks
Amidst several troubling allegations, a for-profit alternative education provider with Northwest Philadelphia ties has come under the scrutiny of the state's Department of Education.
Delaware Valley High School, an educational organization that operated a program in East Falls from 2009 to 2012, was served an "order to show cause" in December by the Department of Education (PDE), based upon allegations and observations of practices at its school in Reading, Pa.
In November, the PDE received several tips from DVHS employees regarding the school's noncompliance with the law, triggering an on-site visit in December, according to official state documents. The visit revealed that DVHS Reading violated requirements for private alternative education institutions.
On-site observations and allegations
As described by the visiting officials, DVHS provided only one counselor to tend to the needs of the 100-plus students, who spent "little, if any, time" counseling to help modify disruptive behaviors.
The observation also noted that DVHS was "remarkably lacking" in academic offerings, with only three hours per day being devoted to instruction prior to their visit, with afternoons being dedicated to unstructured, non-academic activities, dubbed "strategic gaming," "clubs," and, notably, "free for all."
It was also alleged that students whose behavior could not be controlled would be permitted to leave school early.
Also concerning were the allegations of violence and absence of safety protocols, with "frequent violent and other disruptive incidents" occurring at DVHS, which were said to include unsupervised roaming, physical altercations between students and staff and administrative refusal to take action, so-called "riots" necessitating arrests of students by police, and the defecation of students in classrooms.
Moreover, DVHS administrators were said not to be able to provide protocols or polices in place to promote safety or manage crisis, nor were teachers given initial or ongoing training to work in an environment with students with behavioral problems.
Several other problems were detailed, including a lack of screening and review for student placement in or exiting from an "alternative" school and violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Lastly, state officials noted that in staff and administrative interviews, students with disabilities were "continually" referred to as "speds."
Calling for loss of Pa. approval
As related by the PDE, private alternative education providers are reviewed every three years; the report indicated that DVHS needed four revisions needed to meet acceptable formatting. Upon subsequent review, the school DVHS operated in Reading "differed significantly from the school described in its PDE application."
The report also said that Shulick "failed to provide appropriate oversight and guidance to DVHS Reading administrative staff."
"DVHS has failed to meet applicable statutory and regulatory requirements," the report summarized.
Accordingly, DVHS Reading's approval to operate as a private alternative education institution...should be revoked."
Under Pennsylvania law, an order to show cause sets forth "grounds for the action to be taken and shall state the particulars concerning all matters relevant for framing the issues for consideration."
DVHS has 20 days to respond to the show of service. "If DVHS fails to file an answer, all relevant facts stated herein may be deemed admitted."
With the original letter dated Dec. 21, the school has only a few weeks to acknowledge response. Attorneys for the PDE indicated in its order that, should an appeal be filed, the Dept. of Education will ask for an expedited consideration of order based upon "the seriousness of the charges involving the safety and welfare of school-age children."
While Shulick wasn't immediately available for comment, PDE Press Secretary Timothy Ellert said that the department has received a response from DVHS and it is currently under review by the PDE's legal department.
Northwest Philly history
This is the most recent episode in an ongoing public saga for the private alternative education provider that once operated a school in East Falls located between Ridge Avenue and Kelly Drive.
DVHS moved onto the site in 2009, over the objections of at least 1,000 East Falls residents who signed petitions against it.
The School District of Philadelphia severed its contract with DVHS prior to the current school year amid lawsuits, financial woes and an ongoing FBI probe reportedly investigating whether Shulick used political influence to secure district contracts.
The students displaced by the closure of the school were sent to several schools located throughout the city.
Shulick made headlines in October in regard to a lawsuit against former DVHS employees, shortly after police reports surfaced suggesting a sizable heist of school equipment.
On Oct. 9, police were told by an unnamed school administrator that on Sept. 18, an unknown person or persons entered the vacant DVHS site and removed 40 computers, 15 32-inch LCD televisions, and one aquarium and stand.
The estimated cost of the items taken in the heist was almost $30,000.
No signs of forcible entry were present and no witnesses were listed. The police report also indicated that the alarm and camera systems were disabled.
At the time of police notification, the DVHS crime scene was processed for evidence but none was recovered, resulting in a burglary with very little "solvability" and no available surveillance footage.