Parents from a Newark charter school that has been in operation for nearly two decades are crying foul after NJ State Education officials ordered the school closed at the end of the 2018 school year.
According to official documents released to RLS Metro Breaking News by the state education department that were delivered to the school in early January, the school must end its operation effective June 30, 2018.
State education officials placed Lady Liberty Academy Charter School -located at 756 Sanford Avenue- on probation January 23, 2014, and on March 13, 2015, the charter for Lady Liberty was extended to February 29, 2016.
State officials say probation was subsequently extended in a letter dated March 8, 2016, and February 1, 2017.
School officials at Lady Liberty submitted a revised remedial plan on March 23, 2017, and on March 24, 2017, when representatives from Lady Liberty met with the New Jersey Department of Education representatives to discuss the remedial plan and probationary status.
State officials said in order to decide the school's status, the department completed a comprehensive review of the school, including but not limited to, implementation of the remedial student performance on statewide assessments, annual site visits, and interviews with school officials.
According to the NJ Department of Education, during the probationary period, the school was ordered to demonstrate strong academic performance and accountability for student outcomes by providing students with a high-quality education which is not only priority for the state department but is also an integral component of Lady Liberty's mission and vision statements.
State official said, as is clear from Lady Liberty's inconsistent academic performance, the school has continuously struggled to meet this mission and correct the courses for the probationary status.
According to the NJ State Department of Education, during their December 1, 2017 visit, department representatives say they observed low levels of instruction in many classrooms, disengaged students, few checks for understanding, and minimal participation in critical thought assignments despite the school's mission to create active learners and encourage the transformation of thought.
Officials said they observed a stark contrast in student behavior and student-teacher interactions between the elementary and middle school students during the most recent on-site visit.
In the elementary grades, students were generally engaged in low-level knowledge acquisitions, usually respectful, and presented minor disturbances.
However, in the middle school, officials say students appeared unfocused, disengaged and at times disrespectful. "The student-teacher interactions appeared punitive, hostile, and lacked mutual respect."
Lady Liberty school officials disputed the claim by explaining that they have made good strides since the original audit and anticipated a 10 to 15% increase in proficiency rate on the 2017-2018 PARCC assessment as a result of a system put into place at the beginning of the school year.
But state education officials said the growth projected by school officials "seemed improbable."
NJ State Education officials also sited constant staff turnover that caused "disruptions in continuity" as another reason for their school closure determination stating that during the probationary period, the school lost a principal, psychologist, assistant principal, a data administrator, special education coordinator, a School Business Administrator, and several teachers.
A parent organization at Lady Liberty also disputed State Education officials' claims about the school as false and "subjective in nature."
In a letter released to RLS Metro Breaking News by a parent organization, they questioned the motive for the closing.
Parents said the school has had issues in the past but was making a remarkable turnaround that's apparently better than some Newark Public Schools in the area.
The parents also sighted a "social relationship" between former Lady Liberty Academy principal Dr. James Catalano and a state official who they identified as " Ms. Julie Brunt" as retaliation and the "real" culprit behind the school's closing.
"The Conflict Law should apply in situations where NJ State employees had official involvement in a matter affecting the individual with whom he/she had a dating relationship," the parent organization letter said.
The letter alleges that Dr. Catalano resigned from the school after "bad terms" and even stated that the school would "feel his wrath" after his departure.
"Julie Brunt made a decision based on the feelings of her friend -former Principal Dr. Catalano- who left the school with his eyes warranting retaliation against the school."
The parent organization is requesting state officials to launch an investigation into the relationship of Dr. Catalano and Ms. Julie Brunt after the letter alleged that the pair even met poolside at Brunt's home for drinks and other personal social engagements.
The school has approximately 455 students from the following municipalities:
EAST ORANGE: 32
WEST ORANGE- 1
Despite parents' claims of the alleged unusual relationship between Dr. Catalano and Ms. Brunt, The NJ State Education Department ordered Lady Liberty Academy Charter School to cease operations by June 30th in the letter submitted to the board of trustees on January 12, 2018.
The Newark Public Schools 'Newark Enrolls' program was notified of the closure for placement of students in district schools or other charter schools according to NJ State Education officials.
A message requesting comments regarding placement of Lady Liberty Charter Schools Newark residents sent to NPS district officials by our staff went unanswered.