KIPP Academy in Fresno

Allegations of Inappropriate Discipline Tactics Prompt KIPP Principal to Step Down (KMPH Fox 26, February 20, 2009)

Students and parents lined the streets outside the KIPP Academy in Fresno, outraged over the recent and sudden resignation of their principal Mr. Chi Tsichang…

But at a news conference Friday, the Fresno Unified School District offered a little more insight.

Coordinator of Charter Schools, Debra Odom said a lengthy report prepared by the district alleges Tschang was using inappropriate forms of discipline including: slamming students against the wall, placing trash cans over their heads, forcing kids to crawl on their hands and knees while barking, and enforcing unreasonably strict bathroom rules, resulting in students having accidents and vomiting on themselves inside the classroom.

"The information that is received in the report was all brought to our office by parents and by students," said Odom…

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Backers of KIPP Academy press case: Fresno Unified refuses endorsement for charter school. (The Fresno Bee, March 2, 2009)

KIPP Academy, housed in a recycled building in a shabby neighborhood of central-west Fresno, has attracted intensely loyal students, parents and staff -- who are now mounting a fight to keep the school open…

The school has 288 students in grades 5 through 8. The nonprofit KIPP Foundation, founded in 2000, trains principals and has helped launch 66 college-preparatory charter schools in 19 states. KIPP schools, which date to 1994, are known for strict discipline.

KIPP stands for Knowledge is Power Program, and the school's motto is "Be Nice. Work Hard."

Most students left regular public schools in Fresno for KIPP, which opened in 2004. The school is highly diverse and largely low-income, with 80% of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch, said Principal William Lin.

Bren Flowers, whose fifth-grader attends KIPP, said her daughter was lazy when she attended Fresno Unified's Powers-Ginsburg Elementary School but still got A's…

Flowers said she and most parents had no idea the school was in trouble until two weeks ago, when they were told Principal Chi Tschang had resigned. They also learned the school had defaulted on a $2.3 million loan that was obtained in 2006 to buy KIPP's building on Dakota Avenue near Marks Avenue.

The school had counted on a $5 million grant from the state for charter schools to repay the loan and continue financing payments on the building.

But Fresno Unified has refused to submit a key letter of endorsement for the school, which KIPP needs to obtain the state grant.

It's unclear -- given California's dire budget crisis -- whether the state will distribute any of the grant money.

Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson said the district won't send the letter until many problems at the school are fixed. In a 63-page report recently made public, the district dinged the school for a variety of missteps, including hiring uncredentialed teachers, failing to secure state testing materials and not fingerprinting staff.

The report also said students were disciplined with "unwarranted physical force and willful infliction of physical pain." Most of the criticism targeted Tschang, a graduate of Clovis West High School and Yale University.

The inquiry was conducted by a private investigator hired by the district. Debra Odom, Fresno Unified coordinator of charter schools, said the report reflects accounts from more than 50 individuals -- students and parents.

But KIPP officials counter that the school's money problems stem from the district's refusal to help them get the state grant.

While KIPP runs independently of Fresno Unified, the district grants its operating charter. The district said it launched an investigation of the school last summer after receiving complaints from parents, and most members of the KIPP board resigned.

Former KIPP Fresno board member Annette LaRue said Tschang "worked his heart out," but that when the board made suggestions, "There was some difficulty getting things carried out…"

As a charter school, KIPP is funded by the state but allowed greater leeway in how it runs -- without some constraints of the education code -- as a way to encourage innovation. KIPP students attend school longer each day, starting at 7:25 a.m. and leaving at 4 p.m. They go to school about three more weeks in the summer than students at traditional schools.

Students who miss class must attend Saturday school. Teachers hand out their phone numbers and take calls after hours. Students read books as they stand in line to use the bathroom.

Students and their parents must abide by a strict discipline policy. Flowers said when her daughter, Milan, applied to the school, they both had to attend meetings -- totaling about three hours -- about the rules and sign a contract.

"It was pretty intense," Flowers said. "It was clear, 'If you don't play by the rules, we don't have to keep you here.' "

She said parents must every day sign off that their child's homework was completed neatly…

…Flowers said she's not surprised at the outpouring of support for the school, because most parents who send their children to KIPP are dedicated.

"These parents get up at the crack of dawn to drive them. These are parents willing to give their kids the best opportunity," Flowers said.

Monika Chancey, parent of a former student, said she once filed a complaint with Fresno Unified against the school. She felt school officials were excessive in the privileges they had taken away from a group of students who had broken rules. Even so, she does not want the school shut down.

"Did I have concerns about Mr. Tschang's actions? Yes. But they were always addressed," said Chancey, whose ninth-grade daughter now attends boarding school in Claremont…

Her daughter, Sarah, said she got into her private high school because KIPP tailored curriculum for her: geometry in eighth grade and other high-level classes.

"I won't lie. Mr. Tschang has some anger in him," Sarah said. "I did see that sometimes he let the anger get the best of him…"

Larry Powell, superintendent of Fresno County schools, said that even if just one or two of the pages of allegations in Fresno Unified's report were accurate, they "carried dire consequences for the school."

He said in a letter to Tschang that after reading the district's report, he found that Tschang's discipline methods "border on abuse…"

Hanson, Fresno Unified's superintendent, said the district supports well-run charter schools, and he was "deeply disappointed" when it had to issue a negative report on the school.

Said Hanson: "This isn't about Fresno Unified vs. anyone."

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Additional details from Mark Garrison who provides excerpts from the report which can be found here.

Discipline practices

Witnesses saw Mr. Tschang (the school’s principal) “pick up a student off the ground, hold the student by the neck against a wall, and then drop the student.” When asked about this incident Mr Tschang stated, “I don’t remember picking up and dropping a student, I do remember shaking a kid.”

Witnesses report Tschang push another student’s face against the wall and saying, “Put your ugly face against the wall, I don’t want to see your face.”

Another student reported witnessing Mr. Tschang “draw a circle on the ground and force a student to stand in the circle for two hours in the sun during the summertime.”

A student at KIPP from 2004 to 2007, stated that in the 04-05 term he saw “Mr. Tchang pick students up and drop them. If a student wasn’t sitting correctly he would pick them up by their shirt, move the chair, and drop them on the floor.”

A student said that in December of 2007, Mr. Tschang told him to get on his hands and knees and bark like a dog.

Students who were late to school “would not be allowed to eat their meals provided by the state.” Student (name deleted) stated that Mr. Tschang told her, “People who are late don’t get to eat.”

A parent reported that Mr. Tschang took a student’s “glasses away from him because” he “was constantly adjusting his glasses.” The student is totally dependent on his glasses and cannot see without them. “Mr. Tschang admitted to taking (name deleted) glasses away.”

“Several students stated that students are not allowed to talk or socialize at all during school hours.” When asked about this policy, Mr. Tschang stated, “If parents are not happy with the school program, it is a school of choice. They are free (and indeed encouraged) to remove their kids from the school. There are plenty of other public school options for their children.”

A parent “confronted Mr. Tschang about yelling at her daughter who was a student at the school.” She reported that she told Mr. Tschang she did not appreciate Mr. Tschang yelling at her daughter. Mr. Tschang responded, “well next time I won’t yell, I will ask you to leave the school.” Mr. Tschang told the investigator, “my thought on this is if a parent or child is not happy with our disciplinary methods; to get the results we do, discipline and structure is a part of the way we instruct; you can’t have it both ways. This is a school of choice.”

It was reported that Mr. Tschang put “the entire 5th grade class into a two stall bathroom and kept them there for 20 minutes. …

Mr. Tschang admitted that he did ask students to go into the bathroom and figure out a way to solve the bathroom vandalism issue.”

“Mr. Tschang put a garbage can on a student’s head. Mr. Tschang admitted to putting the garbage can over the student’s head because the student, (name deleted), had been clowning around.”

“A 5th grade class had their behavior tested by being left unattended in the cafeteria where a video camera recorded their actions. Mr. Tschang told the investigator that this was an exercise to ask the students the question, “What are you doing when no one is watching?”

“A common complaint from students was that teachers were not letting student go the bathroom.” One student reported that “there was a student in Ms. Sosa’s class who urinated in his pants because he was not allowed to use the restroom.” Student who started with the Charter School in 2004 and just graduated in 2008, stated, “They would not let us use the bathroom during classes. Parents heard about this and they had to have a meeting to get hem to alow us this, to allow us to go to the bathrooms.”

Testing Irregularities

The report indicated that “tests were stored in a location where students and parents had access to the tests;” two years in a row, the Charter School failed to abide by mandated testing procedures, and the testing coordinator failed to report testing irregularities for the 2005-2006 STAR testing session; “the school adopted a policy that students were required to check their answers again and again after they had finished their tests and were not allowed to do other activities”; “teachers recorded students’ answers during testing, reviewed students’ tests, and told students which page to correct”.

In a staff meeting in May of 2006, staff were told by the principal that the legal and ethical guidelines for testing were, in fact, only guidelines that could be ignored.

Alleged Efforts to Cheat the National School Lunch Program

“Vincent Montgomery was the Charter School’s Chief Operating Officer from February 2005 to April of 2006. He told investigators that Mr. Tschang would ask him why the school was losing so much money on the school lunch program and instructed Mr. Montgomery to count students as present whether they were there or not. Mr. Montgomery disagreed because he thought that this practice was illegal.”

Suspension and Suspension Procedures

Throughout the school years from 2004 to 2008, the Charter School failed to abide by the California Education Code grounds and procedures for suspension of students.

The report found that a student was “left outside without supervision for three hours for a minor infraction that occurred during breakfast.”

Witnesses report “students being forced to stay in small rooms near the school’s office for hours or even entire days without supervision”. Parents “of suspended students were frequently not notified of the suspensions.”

Students were routinely sent home for non-serious offenses like talking in class, chewing gum, and bringing a mechanical pencil to school.

The report also found that “students were routinely transported from school without their parents being notified.”

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