Lori Crawford sent her third grade daughter to East Dover Elementary School on the first day of school Aug. 23 only to find out that her records had been transferred to Academy of Dover based on what she said was simply an inquiry of the charter school last spring.
Crawford, a Delaware State University professor, said she was researching schools for her daughter, Terri, and just wanted information about the charter school. She said the school secretary told her she had to fill out an application just to speak with the principal. So, she went to the school June 4 to obtain the form.
Crawford felt in her gut that it was odd, but in her desire to complete her research she filled out and signed the document, which included the warning that Delaware Code required parents signing the form to commit their child to the charter school for at least one year.
On June 7, Crawford met Academy of Dover Principal Noel Rodriguez for a tour. Rodriguez advised her that she had signed a legal document, but she said he told the secretary to hold off on inputting the application when she told him she was still unsure.
Crawford said she was stunned to receive a call from East Dover Elementary Principal Pamela Manlove, telling her she was surprised to see Terri arrive on the first day of school since Academy of Dover had requested that her records be transferred during the summer. Crawford asked Manlove to keep her daughter at school, and that she would ask for the records to be sent back.
"I'm a rather intelligent person and I did hesitate before signing that document," Crawford told the Dover Post. "But I really was just getting information."
For his part, Rodriguez said he checked with his staff and no one told Crawford that she had to fill out an application just to see him. And, moreover, he did not know how Crawford showed up for the June 7 tour with an application filled out.
In sum, Crawford said she felt like she had been tricked into signing a document that legally bound her to enroll her daughter.
In response, Rodriguez said he had 286 parents who could testify they were never told they had to fill out an application in order to obtain a meeting with him.
Rodriguez told Crawford she could write a letter to the Academy of Dover Board of Directors asking to be released from the legal agreement based on "good cause," as defined by state law.
Page 2 of 3 - Crawford wrote a June 19 letter to the board in which she asked to be released from the one-year commitment because she only filled out an application to procure a meeting with Rodriguez.
She told Rodriguez later in the summer that she had never received a letter from the board responding to her request to be released. Rodriguez said Crawford had received a certified letter stating her request had been denied, at which point Crawford demanded to see a receipt.
At that point, she and Rodriguez were at an impasse, Crawford said.
She reached out to John H. Carwell Jr., the Delaware Department of Education's Charter School Office director for help. But Carwell told Crawford and the Dover Post that the Academy of Dover Board determined that good cause did not apply in Crawford's situation based on state law.
Based on Delaware Code, only the Academy of Dover Board of Directors could release Crawford from the one-year commitment, state Department of Education spokeswoman Alison Kepner said.
Rodriguez has remained steadfast in his stance out of principle, he said. And it was not about enrollment, which determines crucial state funding for public schools, he said. It was about standing up to the Capital School District, which he said should have followed state regulations and turned away Terri Crawford from East Dover since dual enrollment of public school students is disallowed.
He expressed frustration that the state Department of Education was not requiring Capital to follow regulations.
But Capital Assistant Superintendent Dr. Tina Huff said East Dover had simply honored Crawford's parental right to send her daughter to the school of her choosing.
"The Capital School District is working with the Delaware Department of Education to mediate charter school situations," she said. "We do not intend to deny a child who has been attending one of our schools since the first day an education at that school unless we are mandated to do so."
Rodriguez responded by saying that following state law was not about a parent changing her mind.
Nonetheless, Board Vice President Nancy Wagner reached out to Crawford to advise her to write a second letter to board expressing her desire to enroll Terri in East Dover's gifted & talented program, Rodriguez said. That would constitute good cause since Academy does not have that program.
The board is scheduled to meet on Thursday night.
Page 3 of 3 - Crawford said she would likely take up that offer.
"I was kind of perturbed that they were kind of dictating to me what I should say," she said Monday. "But I do want an end to all this. So, I do plan on responding to them."