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Minnesota School Of Science Will Not Welcome Back Students With Special Needs

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Last week, the families of 40 Minneapolis students with special needs were informed their children would not be welcomed back to the one-year-old charter Minnesota School of Science, which replaced Cityview Elementary School in August 2011 due to poor standardized test scores, the Twin Cities Daily Planet reports.

Originally, the arrangement stipulated that special education classrooms would remain in the building, and their occupants would remain Minneapolis Public School students in name. A one-year contract required the new charter school to provide opportunities for the special education students -- who have autism and Down syndrome, among others -- to interact with mainstream peers.

The arrangement represented the first of its kind in the country, reports the online paper. It meant Cityview’s high-needs students would not have their schooling disrupted, and the district wouldn’t need to locate space for more classrooms in already-crowded schools.

On July 9, however, the charter school’s board notified the district they would not re-sign a contract to mainstream MPS students this coming fall.

According to Minnesota School of Science board member Gene Scapanski, the board was reluctant to agree to mainstream the students in the first place.

“We almost chose not to come to this building because of it,” Scapanski told the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

The charter school’s goal is for 90 percent of its academically struggling, mostly low-income and non-white students to score at the proficient level on state tests within three years.

According to Scapanski, “To bring children to that level of growth and then to have in addition that other challenge, it seemed like more than we could handle. We didn’t know if we could be successful.”

As Diane Ravitch points out in her education blog, the Minnesota School of Science is part of a chain of urban, Midwestern charter schools managed by Concept Schools, a nonprofit management and consulting organization based in Chicago. Concept Schools also manages 27 publicly funded Gulen charter schools -- a controversial network of charters run by followers of Fethullah Gulen, a prominent Turkish preacher who has inspired a worldwide religious, social and nationalistic movement.

The New York Times reported in June that three Gulen schools were embroiled in a controversy involving audits tied to the Gulen movement. In 2011, it was reported that the FBI was investigating suspicions that the Gulen charter schools were using taxpayer money to bring Gulen-connected teachers to the U.S. from Turkey and other countries. In turn, these teachers allegedly agreed to ship back a percentage of their paychecks to the Gulen movement in Turkey.

In a blog post, Rob Panning-Miller cites this forced exodus of children with special needs as “just the latest evidence that charter schools do not serve all students.”

Likewise, Ravitch writes that this action clearly suggests MSS is bouncing these students to improve test scores, questioning, “Is this what ‘no child left behind’ means? Does it mean pushing out the most vulnerable children to inflate the school’s scores?”

A Government Accountability Office report released in June showed that charter schools do not enroll students with disabilities at the same rate as traditional public schools, despite federal laws that require all publicly funded schools to serve disabled students. The report, commissioned by Rep. George Miller, found that 11 percent of students enrolled in public schools during the 2009-10 school year had special needs requirements, compared to 8 percent of charter school students.

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