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What are Windham education officials hiding?

Ohanian Comment: Of late, I've stopped posting outrages unique to a single place--too much outrage, too little time. But this one seems so outrageous, it can't go without notice. It's a lesson in how to make sure test scores rise--in one easy lesson.

by Jonathan Pelto

Windham's school administrators refuse to reveal public information.

Windham, Connecticut is one of the poorest communities in Connecticut. With a per capita income of about $20,000, life in Windham and Willimantic is a bit different then in New Canaan where the per capita income of $101,000.

With inadequate funds, Windham's school programs are being cut. Fewer teachers are leading to larger class sizes. Windham students lack some of the most basic educational opportunities that most Connecticut school children take for granted. In Windham, they don't call music, art and physical education "specials" for nothing.

Meanwhile Windham's taxpayers face some of the highest property tax rates in the state.

But those problems didn't stop the Windham Schools, and their state appointed Special Master, Steven Adamowski, from finding the money to hire a full-time public relations person earlier this year.

And today I got to see that new public relations person in action.

But first, as background, let's start at the beginning;

In an attempt to provide Windham's students with enhanced educational opportunities, the state of Connecticut authorized and paid the vast majority of costs for a new magnet school for Windham. The new school will be called the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy.

In Connecticut, an interdistrict magnet school is a "publicly funded school operated by a local or regional school district, regional educational service center or by cooperative agreement involving two or more districts."

The role of magnet schools, according to the Department of Education, is to "reduce, eliminate or prevent the racial, ethnic or economic isolation of public school students while offering a high-quality curriculum that supports educational improvement."

This month, the new Windham STEM Magnet has begun to recruit students since it will be opening its doors to the students in Windham and from the surrounding region next September.

According to the Windham STEM Magnet School's operating agreement, 70 percent of students are supposed to come from Windham, with 30 percent coming from nearby towns.

In order to develop the most effective and comprehensive programs, the state provides Magnet Schools with extra funding.

According to state law and regulations, "All students in the school districts participating in the magnet school program are eligible. No student may be denied enrollment because of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, genetics, age, religion or any other basis."

If there are more applicants than the school has room to enroll, a lottery is held to fill the slots.

According to the Windham STEM Magnet operating agreement, the application and lottery process is blind to special needs. All students are eligible to attend the school and applications are differentiated only by residency.

But then -- as readers of Wait, What? learned in a previous post -- deep inside the Windham Magnet School operating agreement is some fine print that read, "New students entering beyond grade 3 must be reading at grade level."

Such a policy would be absurd, and perhaps even illegal.

Poverty, language barriers and special education needs directly correlate to reduced reading levels. A policy limiting students who aren't reading at grade level would disproportionately hurt low income children and students who don't speak English and children who need special education services.

As noted in a previous Wait, What? Blog, "put another way, the students most likely to be excluded from the Windham STEM Magnet School are exactly the students magnet school programs were designed to help!"

The very reason Connecticut taxpayers are asked to devote extra funds to magnet schools is to provide these target populations with expanded educational opportunities.

Imagine, a public school, funded by taxpayer dollars, where parents are told that all children are welcome -- except those that need special help.

Imagine, a public school, funded by taxpayer dollars, where the very children who need help are prevented from attending.

It is an outrage beyond comprehension.

The fact is such a policy would be unethical, immoral and outrageous. It would discriminate against students on the basis of their socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, family history and certainly prohibits most special education students from attending.

A policy like MUST be illegal.

Last week I raised the issue with the state employees responsible for overseeing Connecticut's magnet schools.

These public employees refused to respond to my question and instructed me to ask the State Department of Education's Director of Communications. However, she did not bother to respond.

So, instead, I went to the Windham Schools.

The Windham STEM Magnet is part of the Windham Schools.

Its operating agreement was approved by the Windham Board of Education.

Certainly if anyone could answer the question about the school's policy when it comes to reading at grade level, the people who work for the Windham Schools could do that.

Yesterday I wrote to Windham's new public relations officer.

I received no response whatsoever.

So today I wrote to again, but this time I wrote to Windham's Superintendent of Schools and just about every other administrator I could find an email for,

Later in the day I finally received a response -- from the new Windham PR person.

She instructed me to take the matter up with the State Department of Education's Director of Communications!

The new Windham STEM Magnet school is a Windham School.

The policies governing this facility were developed by Windham's education administrators along with Special Master Steven Adamowski and approved by the Windham Board of Education.

And how do they respond to a request for information that is clearly a matter of public record?

They duck the question and refer me to the state employee who already failed to provide the public information.

There is a sickness that has taken over the State Department of Education and it has filtered down to the education administrators in the Windham School System.

The effort to keep public information away from the public is truly shocking.

It begs the question, what else are these people keeping secret?

— Jonathan Pelto
Wait, What? blog





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