by Lynda Rubin
Third Time’s the Charm For Catapult Inc. as Lawyers and Advocates Push Back on SRC Deal
The speeding train delivering a multi-million contract to yet another education vendor was temporarily halted, and eventually significantly scaled down, by parents and community members who had not been informed or consulted about this deal with the for-profit Catapult Learning, Inc. The Coalition of Special Education Advocates, comprised of over fifteen organizations including APPS and represented by attorneys from the Public Interest Law Center (PILCOP) and the Education Law Center (ELC,) demanded to meet with district staff to discuss the possible segregation of special needs children and how that would violate federal law, among other issues. Members of City Council, including Helen Gym and Derek Green, also sent a letter to the district addressing their concerns about IU-7.
The original IU-7 resolution, posted just three days before the June 15 SRC meeting, called for an initial 3-year expenditure of $36,073,350, with a possible increase to a 5-year contract through June 2022 at a total cost of $54, 473, 350. No staff presentation had been given previously, nor was any placed on the June 15 agenda. PILCOP and ELC attorneys immediately contacted district officials. The resolution proposed a separate facility for students with various special needs, including a program for autistic students. Attorneys and advocates were alarmed that the Hite administration was planning to segregate these students, in violation of the long-standing Least Restrictive Environment federal law. Because of this public pressure, the SRC withdrew the resolution just before the meeting. However, Dr. Hite did address some of the issues raised about the resolution. His explanation was that the district needed a facility to serve the approximately 100 students who had been at Wordsworth, whose contract with the district was cancelled in October 2016 after a student died in a struggle with staffer which was ruled a homicide.
However, rather than make this public and reach out to special education advocates, educators and parents for a discussion of how to best plan for these students, the SRC (which also functions also as the Intermediary Unit #26 board – covering the Philadelphia district only) and the District, with as little notice as possible, began the process of creating a new IU program, also to become a future training facility, under the contract and direction of Catapult Learning, Inc. The plan was to incorporate a total of 200 students, not just the Wordsworth students but other special needs students to start in September, 2017, with an expansion to 600 students by June 2022. Eventually, the resolution was scaled down to a 3-year, $10 million contract with Catapult limited to the returning Wordsworth students.
Notable here is that the program was obviously not just in response to the need presented by students returning from Wordsworth, but was seen as an opportunity for more privatization of public school students at public expense. No explanation was ever given about why that $54 million had to be paid to outsource the services for special needs students rather than be delivered by experienced district teachers in public school facilities.
Notification, Lack Thereof – Why the Rush?