Parents concerned after school set to close amid cheating allegations

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Parents of students at an Indianapolis charter school say they’re concerned after an investigation revealed the school cheated on ISTEP exams.

The Flanner House Elementary Charter School Board of Directors voted to close the school effective September 11 after the Indiana Department of Education released its findings Monday.

Officials say the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation started an investigation after the school tested much higher than it had before in 2013 and 2014 ISTEP testing.

The IDOE’s investigation revealed changes from wrong to right answers, some adult handwriting on the tests and showed students were given test questions before the 2014 ISTEP test.

Some parents said they found out about the board voting to close their child’s school on Facebook or via text message.

Those parents attended an informational meeting on Thursday evening.

24-Hour News 8 was not allowed inside the meeting, but many parents came out upset that they weren’t consulted before the vote to close the school. Parents were also concerned about what happens next with their student.

“They should retest all the kids. Just get rid of the teachers, administrators, but don’t close the school. You’re hurting the kids, the parents, everybody,” said mother Tamra Sanders. “This is like our second family.”

“I don’t think you close an entire school, ruin a community, over what a few people did,” said mom Jennifer Anderson. “I’ve recommended this school and am so heartbroken and disappointed.”

The board of directors gave parents a letter, explaining its decision, saying testing policies and procedures were breached, and the IDOE has invalidated the 2013 and 2014 ISTEP scores and rescinded the school’s four star rating.

The letter stated they deeply regret, but they voted to close the school effective September 11.

“I’m not sure what I’m going to do, look for a new school,” said Sanders. “Hopefully they give out vouchers for school supplies and uniforms.”

Among other concerns, many parents said they had called other schools Thursday, only to find there were no spots open.

Brandon Brown, Indianapolis’ Director of Charter Schools, says he has a full-time staff member dedicated to making sure all students find a new school, adding he understands parents’ frustrations.

As far as parents’ concerns about financial hardships with uniforms and school supplies, Brown says they will also look into every avenue to make sure parents receive help.

They’re holding a school enrollment fair next Tuesday and Wednesday for families, saying they’d been in contact with schools all day within two miles of Flanner House Elementary.

“It’s not the family’s fault we saw academic fraud at this school. It’s not the student’s fault. So we’re going to work with families and students to effectively transition them to a new school,” Brown said.

Brown says they are fully supportive of the board’s decision.

“When you look at the academic dishonesty we saw at this school, this is unprecedented in the state of Indiana. It was systemic across the school,” Brown explained. “It was classrooms across the school. This wasn’t just one classroom, it wasn’t just one teacher. This was a two year, cheating scandal we took ten months to investigate, and the results were sobering.”

“To our knowledge, no school has had two years of ISTEP testing thrown out and what we saw in terms of the actions of adults, the school hasn’t been truthful with where their families have been for two years, and that’s unacceptable,” Brown said.

The Chairman of the Indianapolis Charter School Board John Mutz says he also supports the board of director’s decision to close.

“We’re glad they did that. Had they not done that, we would have asked that the charter would be removed from their organization. We have, by now, turned over evidence to the prosecutor. This is a very serious matter. We can’t tolerate cheating,” Mutz sad.

Brown says the IDOE has the ability to revoke teaching licenses from members of the staff shown to be cheating on the ISTEP.

Officials will refer the case and their findings to the Marion County Prosecutor Friday, who will determine if criminal charges will be filed.

No one from the administration at Flanner School Elementary School would comment on Thursday.

NOTE: Flanner House Inc., a community center that shares the name, is unaffiliated and will remain open. The preschool operated by Flanner House Inc. is separate from the charter school and will continue to operate.

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