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Charter School Cheating Probe Sparks Clash with CUSD

Oxford Prep's investigation flouts orders from Capo Unified to let the district handle the case.

A local charter school's effort to investigate allegations that its staff cheated during standardized testing in spring is under fire from the Capistrano Unified School District, which has launched its own probe and questioned the objectivity of the school's investigation.

In correspondence obtained by Patch between the school district and Oxford Preparatory Academy, Capo Superintendent Joe Farley sternly urges OPA chief Sue Roche not to hire a third-party investigator but join the district’s investigation.

“I’m sorry I have to resort to very direct language, but because of your adamant comments about your authority to manage your charter school without oversight of the district, I feel I must specifically direct you not to initiate a second investigation into the allegations of misconduct, and to engage in the one that is going to be done by the district,” Farley wrote to Roche on Oct. 3.

Farley wrote that if OPA did not cooperate with the district, he would be forced to seek help from county and state education department officials.

He added: “It is clearly in the interest of all parties that one fully independent investigation be conducted that may not be influenced by the persons who are being investigated."

Patch compiled this timeline of events based upon several letters between OPA and the school district:

  • Oct. 1: Farley phones Roche to discuss accusations of misconduct at OPA during the Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, exams. He emphasizes it’s the district’s responsibility to investigate the claims.
  • Oct. 2: Noting the school district had hired its own investigator, Roche writes back that OPA is within its rights to investigate the matter itself.
  • Oct. 3: Farley demands OPA cooperate with the district’s investigation. He also says it would be inappropriate for OPA directors to discuss the allegations or the hiring of an investigator in closed session. That same day, however, the Oxford Board of Directors meets in closed session to discuss the matter and hires a San Diego law firm to conduct the independent review.
  • Oct. 4: OPA’s attorney introduces himself to the district and requests cooperation with his firm's investigation. He also says OPA would not make teachers or students available to the district-hired investigator.
  • Oct. 7: A political blog cites unnamed sources who claim OPA discouraged lower-achieving students from taking the STAR tests.

None of the letters described the alleged misconduct in any detail.

Efforts to reach CUSD's attorney and Roche went unanswered.

Capo Parent October 11, 2012 at 09:18 PM
Randy As I posted above, I do not have any knowledge or understanding of what the alleged cheating by OPA entails. I, like many, am waiting for specific charges and allegations to be made public. Until then, all we're doing is engaging in a guessing game.
Impartial OPA Parent October 11, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Well said Neutral OPA. How can those accused of wrong doing lead the investigation. OPA's Executive Board was handpicked by Sue who in turn chose the firm to conduct the 'investigation' into the cheating allegations. So I doubt that it would be an 'impartial' investigation. OPA is under the oversight of the school board. People need to remove their emotions from this and understand that fact.
momofsix October 12, 2012 at 01:20 AM
Just to clarify, OPA is not investigating itself, nor has OPA proposed to do so. The OPA board moved to hire an attorney to initiate a third-party independent investigation (as evidenced by the letter from said attorney to Farley). In his letter, Farley asserts that OPA doesn't have the right to initiate the investigation & that it is CUSD's responsibility. Either way, it should be a third-party independent investigation. The only significant difference I can see is who would be responsible for paying the bill for this investigation. I think it's rather generous of OPA to foot the bill to investigate allegations that were never made directly to OPA. But maybe the tax payers within the district don't mind "syphoning off" money from the district to investigate these allegations.
randy October 12, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Momof6, capo wanted to pursue the investigation when opa denied wrongdoing or allegedly cheating by opa staff. Capo is responsible as an authority entity.
momofsix October 12, 2012 at 02:17 AM
Randy, I never said that CUSD isn't responsible or as you say "an authority entity". Of course OPA would deny wrongdoing - would you expect otherwise? And Farley's letter included with this article is clearly in response to OPA initiating an investigation - so Farley's desire to initiate the investigation has nothing to do with OPA's denial of wrongdoing since they had clearly shown they were acting to address the allegations. That aside, what exactly does anything in your response have to do with who initiates and pays for a "third-party independent investigation"? That was the point of my comment.
just the facts October 15, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Just curious- OPA in Chino there are approx. 900 students enrolled, and approx. 300 Students home-schooled. I was told by the school that all the students are "enrolled". Now not counting kindergarden, etc., why didn't ALL the kids take the test? The home-schooled students go to the school 2 to 3 days a week. Did all the kids take the test and if not why?? Is there some loophole? The numbers do not add up. Someone please give me an answer! Thank you
4GreatSchools October 15, 2012 at 05:58 PM
The OPA school in Chino had an enrollment of 1076 according to greatschools.com. By the way, OPA isn't the only high performing school in the Chino district. There are eight schools with api scores over 900 including Butterfield Ranch with 924, Country Springs with 938, Michael Wickman with 941, and Edwin Rhodes with 946.
Love My Kids October 16, 2012 at 06:20 AM
Proud Parent: I am interested....did your independant study students get to take the Star Test too? How long have you been in the program and when do your kids get to be full time students? Is the wait very long?
Iluvmykids October 16, 2012 at 06:21 AM
Proud Parent: I am interested....did your independant study students get to take the Star Test too? How long have you been in the program and when do your kids get to be full time students? Is the wait very long?
Pipes October 16, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Antoine- Perhaps you should return to school because you simply do not understand the math. THE DISTRICT MAKES MONEY ON CHARTER SCHOOLS!!!!!!!! CUSD OFFERED the Barcelona campus to OPA. OPA did NOT take it from Barcelona. CUSD should have given the Foxborough campus to OPA because Journey Charter School has less than 30 students. That did not happen because, Jack Brick, CUSD Board President had his grand daughter at Journey School at that time and voted againt moving OPA there!!!!!!!!!
Antoine October 16, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Pipes - Thank you for screaming at me and implying that I'm stupid. You are so brave, especially under an assumed name. Since you think you have all of the answers, how excactly does CUSD make money on charter schools? How much did they make last year?
just a parent October 16, 2012 at 02:57 PM
@Pipes according to Ed-data, Journey school has enrollment of 260 students (not 30.)
MayMom October 16, 2012 at 03:28 PM
STAR testing determines what classes your children will get the next year. If your student tests high in math, they are put into the higher math class. It has alot to do with placing your child in the right class for them. That will ultimately make a difference in that childs education. We don't get an opt out at our schools. Our students take the test. Our numbers are accurate.
MayMom October 16, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Opt out? If these kids are having the ability to opt out of the STAR test, what is this proving. Are the parents/teachers/administrators concerned with their test scores. My question is, if OPA is doing a stellar job as is being displayed in all these articles, why would ANY parent have their child opt out of the test. Wouldn't they be wanting to show everybody that their school is doing a great job with their student. Wouldn't they want to know themselves what their STAR test grade is. I don't think a child should be able to opt out. I'm not knocking OPA. I am completely fine with people being able to choose the school they send their child to. If you think your child works better in that type of environment then by all means you should send them there. I just don't understand how we are continuing to hear that they have the opportunity to opt out of a test that shows the schools record of educating their students.
MayMom October 16, 2012 at 03:48 PM
If I were an OPA parent, I would be welcoming this investigation. It will give you the opportunity to show that everything you have said all along is the truth. If you are fighting the investigation it shows that you are worried about the findings. Allow an independant investigation and see what the outcome is. You can either end up with an "I told you so" or realize that your school isn't what they claim to be. I know I would want the truth.
Antoine October 16, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Maymom - At the elementary school level, I don't think kids don't have the option to decline to take the test. If memory serves me right, it was mandatory for all my kids to take the STAR test at Barcelona Hills. The OPA cheating allegations (if they are true) would probably question OPA's results.
4GreatSchools October 16, 2012 at 04:22 PM
@MayMom: Pursuant to California Education Code 60615, parents have the right to opt their children out of the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Assessment. There are actually organizations across the country which support opting out of standardized tests. Some in California include The 6% Club and Deny Them The Data. Every school district has students who are opted out of the STAR test by parents, even Capo. That is one of the reasons there is not 100% participation on the tests. Check out your local school at star.cde.ca.gov.
Antoine October 16, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Proud OPA - I have an MBA from a top business school, so please don't hold back on the detailed explanations. School districts in the area have had no problems in closing other underenrolled facilities in the past and those facilities were not left empty. CUSD is getting reduced funds from the state as it has fewer students in its facilities. Are you saying there is no correlation? Assuming that having a charter school in the district is a contributing factor in having fewer students in CUSD facilities, doesn't that leave reduced funds to cover your costs of maintaining existing facilities such as bussing, maintenance and administrative facilities?
john lewis October 16, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Sue has always been about the money. She will do anything for prestige and the almighty dollar. She hopes that if her schools out perform others it will be easier for her to open other charters. That is her main objective. Her arrogance gets her in the end. Check around at her previous assignments I bet you can unearth a myriad of unethical things she has done to get what she wants.
randy October 16, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Gee, all about $$$. STAR result + API scores = Parents sold out. Good strategy. In fact, I still believe Irvine schools outperform but very modest to the public.
Proud Mom October 17, 2012 at 01:11 AM
Randy - it is not against the law to opt out of STAR testing. As a matter of fact, there is a huge movement across the country in doing this very thing. Parents find it too stressful for their child, and know that it doesn't help with college entrance. There are students on IEP's, who have daily challenges for many reasons - therefore, undo stress may not be worth it. The bottom line is that OPA had a higher percentage of students taking the test than CUSD did. How about that? What does that tell you. OPA has always been up front with the laws they are following. The administration keeps themselves informed, therefore, keeps the parents informed. As has been blogged many times, I'm sure you are aware that there are many people in the surrounding neighborhood, former Barcelona parents, even the union, who do not want OPA to succeed. Because of this, they will jump on any excuse to bring OPA down. The timing was perfect ... wasn't it? Right before an election. Go figure. Time will tell, and hopefully these whistle blowers, will eventually be looked at for possible legal recourse because of their slanderous statements against OPA.
Honestly tested October 17, 2012 at 02:20 AM
4GreatSchools- I was told by the school that there were at least 1200 students enrolled at Chino OPA---- We are missing some kids not tested-- minus kinder & 1st- and including home-schooled. And who ever heard of "opt -out" before Roche???? That is the only time I ever heard of it!!!!
randy October 17, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Honestly tested - oh please. Why investigating? Allegedly cheating, period. CUSD made it clear and investigative action. Thank goodness, kids weren't the ones they go after, that I understand. Just saying.
Pipes October 17, 2012 at 02:49 PM
@just a parent. I had meant 300 students. My typing stands corrected. The enrollment is down from when my children attended. @antoine. Here is the framework, you can do the research and plug in the numbers if you so desire. CUSD makes money by leasing the campus (per classroom or portable) to the charter schools. The charter school is fiscally responsible to maintain the grounds, not CUSD = savings. Then there is the ADA funding. Sit in on a board meeting at a charter school to familiarize yourself. They must fund raise to make up for the lack of funding they receive per student compared to the students in traditional public schools within the district, like Barcelona, where your children attended. There other charter schools in CUSD, Connections Academy, for instance. CA is a nationally recognized, academically challenging online charter school option for students in CUSD. Privately, CA tuition is approx $14,000. It is a Godsend to many families. I haven't seen one post complaining about CA siphoning money off the district, only for elitist, wealthy parents that can afford to home school, Because CA does not need to lease classrooms from CUSD, not even administrative offices, revenue to not being generated and an unlimited number of students can attend. I would think the anti-charter peeps would be far more threatened by CA than OPA or JS. With that said, it's too bad Barcelona was not in any way shape, form welcoming to OPA, only a sour grapes attitude.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) October 17, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Hi Pipes. Re: Connections Academy, in a way, they were. The district started two virtual schools of its own this year, California Preparatory Academy and the Virtual K-8 school. In setting these schools up, there was discussion that these schools will keep ADA (average daily attendance, the way schools are paid) within the district. The district is now competing head-to-head with Connections Academy.
Proud Mom October 17, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Antoine - When was the last school closed in CUSD before OPA? It is a known fact that Dr. Farley does not want to close schools, or in other words, be held responsible. I heard it with my own ears, with his very own mouth. He told parents at Barcelona last year that he wouldn't be able to close Barcelona down, so that they wouldn't have to hare a campus with OPA. He said it would take a year to close it down, even though the Barcelona parents would have prefered it and they told him so. The perfect excuse to close Barcelona down was using OPA as the scapegoat. SVUSD has closed several schools down in order to cut back on the spending, and it was down in a few months, not a year. OPA is paying a monthly lease to CUSD for the use of the facility. Taxpayer's children are attending OPA, so in actuality, it is not your money nor the districts it is using. It is ADA money following the student. You have no right in dictating where my money goes, just as I don't have the right to tell you where you want your money to be spent.
The Walrus October 17, 2012 at 11:46 PM
John, my dear boy…it seems like the one doing "anything for money" is you. Hope I’ll-Pay lives up to the hype! As evidence clearly has demonstrated for decades now, Mrs. Roche does not have to "hope" for anything regarding her schools outperforming district counterparts. What you can surely unearth from Mrs. Roche's resume is that each and every year she has led a school (Principal or current role with the charter), the schools have met AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress), which includes participation rate requirements. When Babe Ruth was once asked why he was paid more than President Hoover, he said, "I know, but I had a better year than Hoover." Perhaps when Mrs. Roche's schools no longer annihilate the competition, then and only then should her salary be discussed. I would say, based on sheer results, that she is under paid, and in this case, is the Sultan of Swat, while Farley should go back to selling vacuums! And lets not forget...Dr. Farley has one of the highest salaries for a superintendent in the state…when his top performing school scores nearly 50 points lower than a first year charter. Smells like motive to concoct an ambulance chasing, testing allegation!
Clear Skys October 28, 2012 at 05:01 AM
These are Education Code alleged violations, law enforcement investigates felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions enumerated in the CA Penal Code (crimes). During the course of the investigation, if it is determined other acts took place in the furtherance of these allegations, such as evidence of bribery or anything of intrinsic value, then it is halted and a possible criminal investigation is initiated.
Christopher Roberts October 28, 2012 at 04:40 PM
I am a parent of students in both OPA and CUSD public schools. They are both great. OPA's success doesn't diminish the good things CUSD does. Choice and competition is a great thing and one-size does not fit all. Lets stop being petty and celebrate the great work teachers, students, and parents are doing. Perhaps we can share best practices to make education better for *all* students.
mc hill October 28, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Christopher- Well said. I have two children in public CUSD schools and collectively, we are satisfied with the quality of education they are receiving. However, if I felt differently, I would not hesitate to move them as we did when they were younger. Competition is a great way...the best way in my opinion to raise that academic bar. Funding is not the issue as roughly 54% of the California budget is mandated to go to K-14 public education. Poor performance is the result of three factors; a disinterested and disengaged parental population, utter financial incompetence at the state and local level and the very worst public policy practices for negotiating with the teacher unions. It seems to me that charter schools are effectively addressing all three of these important and challenging issues.

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