Pittsburgh Public School officials admit they didn't do their homework when they sent court-supervised students to the North Side's Community Education Partners, a school for students with learning and disciplinary problems.
According to Dr. Kaye Cupples, the district's executive director of support services, four students in grades 6 through 8 were mistakenly sent to CEP, a private Nashville-based alternative education company that has accepted roughly 250 of the most behaviorally challenging students from the Pittsburgh Public Schools. CEP's contract with the district expressly prohibits adjudicated students (minors under court supervision as a result of being charged with a crime) from attending.
"Students referred [to CEP] will not include those who are adjudicated," the contract states.
"We erred in sending those four students," Cupples says. "We didn't check to see that they were adjudicated. We should have picked it up."
Cupples says there are about eight other middle-grade students under court supervision currently attending CEP at the North Side's former Clayton Academy building, but since they were charged with crimes while they were at the school, the district is allowed to keep them there.
The contract's wording appears to be a significant source of confusion amongst district and CEP officials.
According to Cupples, it was the district's choice to include such language in the contract, since the district planned on sending children who are under court supervision to the Academy Charter School in Carrick, which is specifically designed for such students. But, he says, the Academy is only chartered for students in grades 9-12. That leaves adjudicated student grades 6-8 with no place to go.
"You can't leave these children at home," says district solicitor Ira Weiss, who acknowledges that the district was in breach of its contract with CEP. Sending them to CEP "is the best alternative of a lot of bad alternatives."
And, he adds, "CEP did not object to this."
"The language in the contract should have been clearer," says CEP's Chief Executive Officer Randle Richardson, speaking on the phone from Nashville. "It's OK for us to take students in the middle school [grades].
"My understanding is that we're not supposed to take students who should go to the Academy."
Cupples says that the four adjudicated students who were accidentally sent to CEP will remain at the school for the remainder of the year, since "We feel that the interventions [CEP] is providing are appropriate."
Richardson says that's fine with him, particularly since CEP is capable of handling those students.
"The education is the same whether they are adjudicated or not," he says, adding that CEP has been accepting students under court supervision since its inception more than 10 years ago.
Some board members have started scrutinizing CEP's work with the district's troubled students in recent weeks, since there have been numerous reports concerning violence in the building [See City Paper "School of Hard Knocks," Feb. 14, and "Board of Education members concerned with violence at CEP," March 6].
Although both sides have settled the contract breach, board member Randall Taylor says it's still disconcerting.
"The board was told that [sending adjudicated students to CEP] would not occur," he says. "The question is, how did that occur?"