Catasauqua Press

Monday, September 25, 2017

School board demands answers

Wednesday, June 28, 2017 by By ZACH HOTTINGER in Local News

On Tuesday, the Catasauqua School District School Board held a special meeting to address allegations against the Innovative Arts Academy Charter School, located in Catasauqua.

Ann Tarafas and Elizabeth Fox, former educators at the charter school, had spoken at the June 13 school board meeting to raise awareness of the situation at the charter school under Principal Douglas Taylor.

At the time, both Tarafas and Fox were employed by the charter school but have since been terminated due to "poor performance."

Tarafas and Fox were both in attendance for the special board meeting Tuesday, along with other former employees of the charter school, including two other teachers, an administrative assistant and the grandmother of a student who in the audience’s opinion had been "left behind" by the charter school.

"It’s been a nightmare" Fox said. She said she was let go by the school and not allowed to retrieve her personal possessions before they were discarded. Both Fox and Tarafas were let go for "poor performance" reasons but were never given evaluations by the school and were never given full explanations as to why their contracts were not renewed, although both believed the events were only a matter of time.

All of the former employees in attendance believe the conduct of Taylor is unfitting of an educator and his actions need to be brought to light to not only the taxpayers of the local area but to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Multiple people spoke, giving the school board insight about what goes on inside the school. Allegations included that Taylor turned the school nurse station into his own office while sending the nurse to an inadequate teacher’s lounge space the size of a large desk, the hiring of an assistant principal whom is not certified, hiring officials and educators without proper school board policies and certifications, improper usage of funds, a disregard for school safety protocols as the school has had only one lone fire drill the past year, a disregard for staff safety as one member of the audience spoke of how her filing a police report against a student ended in her termination, and malicious treatment of students in both educational and physical terms.

One student in particular was highlighted, a seventh-grade student with special education needs who, former teachers said, was continuously placed into in-school suspension and never given the proper school work. The child was placed in in-school suspension so many times that the board believes what was done was a violation of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, as the student missed a number of consecutive days. Reasons for the student being placed in in-school suspension were not spoken and those in attendance believed that it was done as a way to just get rid of the child from being bothersome. Accusers said this student had also failed his school work due to the suspensions but was given a passing grade regardless and will continue his education in the eighth grade despite missing the majority of the year.

"Somebody needs to stand up for these kids, it’s not fair," said Tarafas, "There are so many things going on here that it is just unbelievable. All of us are now trying to get a job and we’ve been black-listed, thanks to working in such horrible conditions and being fired for unknown reasons. The worst part about all of this, though, is these kids are the future, and someone is giving up on them and it’s not the teachers."

Catasauqua School District Superintendent Robert Spengler said the consequence of this has the potential to be a financial mess for taxpayers, as this kind of activity will affect both Catasauqua and Allentown districts. Allentown has 214 students attend the charter school and contributed $2.3 million dollars to the school this year. Catasauqua has only two students at the school, but with the school in the school district boundaries, the school board has over-site of the school board and has the authority to revoke its charter.

Taylor was not in attendance, as the charter school’s legal counsel advised him to stay away from the public meeting.

The school board plans to send Taylor a list of questions to which Taylor has seven business days to respond. The board will have another special board meeting July 25 to further speak on the issues. Taylor will again be asked to address the public’s concerns.

At the end of the meeting, school board President Penny Hahn thanked those in attendance for coming and said answers will soon be brought to light, and that the board does not take the allegations made lightly. "Education is our priority and what has been said tonight has been eye-opening," she said.