Charter Schools

Alternative charter school closes Homestead, Miami Gardens campuses

A Miami-Dade charter school that for years gave hundreds of young adults a second chance at a high school diploma suddenly closed operations last week, citing “contractual issues” with the school’s federally funded vocational partners.

The School for Integrated Academics and Technologies shut down Oct. 2 after eight years. The alternative school served just over 100 students this year on three campuses in Miami Gardens and Homestead, and was part of a national charter chain that partners with Job Corps and the Service Corps.

“Some contractual issues related to staff privacy policies keep the charter from continuing its operations,” SIA Tech spokeswoman Linda Leigh wrote in an email. “These workforce agencies have been excellent partners in providing robust services to young people most in need and it was very disappointing to close these dropout recovery high schools.”

The decision by the school’s governing board to close operations came in late September about two weeks after the school district publicly released the findings of an investigation into the school’s student enrollment reporting and the screening of employees.

Though the school offered high school diplomas to adult students, it was funded under the same formula as traditional charter schools.

Responding to concerns from the district’s charter schools operations office, investigators under the district’s chief auditor said they reviewed 60 attendance samples and found problems with half. They said students were reported as having attended charter school classes when they were really at Job Corps programs, or were reported to the district as present but noted as absent by their teacher.

Investigators also found there was no evidence that 20 Job Corps employees working with students had been screened to the level required by Florida’s Jessica Lunsford Act, passed in 2005.

In an August response, the school said it was promptly addressing the issues. Leigh wrote Tuesday that “the audit was not a factor in the voluntary surrender” of the school’s Miami-Dade charter, which was SIA Tech’s only charter in South Florida.

A separate, unrelated state audit into the school’s enrollment reporting is also ongoing.

Regardless, at least 100 students who were seeking a diploma through the school will now have to wait a few weeks until Job Corps and the district can work to replace the classes. Tiffanie Pauline, assistant superintendent in charge of the district’s charter schools offices, said officials are working to serve SIA’s students through a partnership with the South Dade Educational Center and D.A. Dorsey Educational Center.

Luis Cerezo, director of the Homestead Job Corps Center, called the school’s closing “sad” but said it will just be a hiccup for SIA Tech students at his campus.

“Their credits will transfer,” he said. “If they decide to continue on that track they’ll be without the program for a maximum of 30 days. If they don’t want to do that then they can transition into our GED program.”

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