On a Monday night in late April, the D.C. Public Charter School Board convened for its monthly meeting with plans to vote on new charter school applications. One network, DC Preparatory Academy, submitted two requests for expansion: one to increase their student enrollment ceiling, and one to open a new elementary and middle school campus. Founded in 2003 and already operating five campuses, DC Prep is considered among the highest performing charter networks in the city. It was no surprise when the Charter Board’s staff recommended that the board vote in favor of the school’s proposals.
Yet around three hours into the meeting, when it finally came time to vote, board members started asking DC Prep leaders surprisingly tough questions. Board chairman Darren Woodruff noted that at DC Prep’s elementary campus in Anacostia, the out-of-school suspension rate stood at 6.9 percent, nearly double the charter sector’s average. And DC Prep’s Edgewood middle school campus, he said, had an out-of-school suspension rate of 27.9 percent, up from 18 percent the year before. For special education students, the suspension rate was dramatically higher—45 percent.
Woodruff was particularly troubled by the kindergarten suspensions. “I am struggling mightily to understand the logic behind suspending out-of-school 5-year-olds,” said Woodruff. “… I have been in education now for over 30 years and I can’t come up with an explanation that makes sense. I would love to hear anyone from your organization justify a 40 percent suspension rate for 5-year-olds who have disabilities. That’s the reason I will not vote for the expansion.”