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City School Board Votes to Close Banneker Blake Academy

Dominique Maria Bonessi

Baltimore City Schools’ board of commissioners voted seven to zero at Tuesday night’s meeting in favor of closing Banneker Blake Academy in north Baltimore. WYPR’s Dominique Maria Bonessi was at the meeting and spoke to Morning Edition Host Nathan Sterner about the board's decision.

NATHAN: The main concern for the school board was special education, why?

DOMINIQUE: Historically, city schools has been under a federally mandated consent decree that started because of lack of services provided to special needs students. A report prepared by school officials of the 2017 to 2018 school year said that the Banneker Blake’s 48 special education students were not receiving the services they needed. But last night Banneker Blake’s Individual Educational Plan or IEP Chair Tatiana Levone was at the meeting to share with the board the progress they had made on special education services, but also how previous years of mismanagement lead to some real issues.

LEVONE: “Last year there were 10 students identified as being possibly harmfully impacted by those FAPE violations in term of their educational progress.”

DOMINIQUE: FAPE is Free Appropriate Public Education which ensures educational rights for students with learning disabilities. So this school year all 48 special education students were called in because they were not receiving the services they required.

NATHAN: There were two other glaring issues that the board looked at, correct?

DOMINIQUE: Right so the first was that the school board felt it was an issue with the management of the school. The school’s founder, Carl Stokes, who you heard from Monday morning while he was protesting outside of the city school headquarters, was asked what was his hiring process for school administrators. Stokes admits that running a school is very different than running small businesses, something he has been doing for the past 35 years.

STOKES: “Sometimes you think you’re picking the best people and they get into the position and they’re not. We’ve made a few mistakes.”

DOMINIQUE: So Stokes admits that at one point they hired an administrator from California that was not qualified for the position.

And the second issue has been the chronically low enrollment of students. Since the school opened in 2015 they have never met city school’s enrollment requirements. And again school board commissioners pointed to lack of effectiveness in school administrators.

NATHAN: When the decision came down what was Stokes reaction?

DOMINIQUE: He immediately said he was going to appeal the decision with the Maryland State Board of Education. Here’s Stokes again…

STOKES: “They decided to close a school that was academically successful for black boys. And we heard frankly a report of lies that were given about what we were not accomplishing.”

Much like his protest yesterday he continued to say that the report prepared by city school officials was inaccurate.

NATHAN: And if the appeal does not go through, when would this school close?

DOMINIQUE: The school would close at the end of the school year in June 2019. Tanya Bridges, who I spoke to on Monday, was there last night with her sixth-grade son Calvin Robinson and had this to say about the decision.

BRIDGES: “Right now I feel like I’m going to keep fighting with them because what I heard them ask for has been met. Where they’re saying they are not meeting in the special education area has been changed and hasn’t been given a fair chance to run its course. So it’s like in prejudice they’re going to shut the school down.”

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