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Questions swirl on disenrolled pupils

Greater Egleston board gives its account

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Questions swirl on disenrolled pupils
The Greater Egleston Community High School

A number of students planning to attend Greater Egleston High School this fall turned up to school only to be informed they had been unenrolled. According to the Greater Egleston High School governing board, the striking of more than 100 students from its enrollment came as a surprise to school staff and administration as well. While Boston Public Schools officials declined to answer questions, citing an ongoing investigation, the GEHS governing board spoke out last week, placing responsibility with BPS.

In its public statement, issued on Sept. 27, the governing board asserted that the high school administration was not informed by BPS of the reason for the disenrollment and said that its headmaster’s efforts to re-enroll the students faced apparent resistance from the district.

“We are aware of recent events concerning the disenrollment of GEHS students, abrupt disruptions to school leadership, and the profoundly negative impact on the students,” governing board co-chairs wrote.

After news broke of the disenrollment, BPS officials announced they were conducting an internal investigation of the school and that the longtime headmaster was being put on paid administrative leave.

GEHS’s governing board requested BPS reinstate headmaster Julie Coles and re-enroll the students, stating “these requests are in keeping with the Board’s most fundamental responsibilities to the students, their learning and their general safety and well-being. This Governing Board sincerely hopes that the District will do what is right, and put the students first.”

In Coles’ place, BPS installed Stephanie Sibley to be acting headmaster with support from Deputy Superintendent of Strategy Donna Muncey. Sibley previously spent seven years leading Excel High School, until she was dismissed when that school entered turnaround status.

BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang responded to the board with a statement, saying “I am disappointed that the co-chairs of the Governing Board of Greater Egleston High School have issued a public statement containing information about issues that are currently under investigation. … As this investigation continues, we are focused on making sure all students who want to be enrolled in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) are in school and learning.”

Shaken school

The alternative high school specializes in serving students who have fallen behind, and its pupils range from age 17 to 22. Many are parents, have medical challenges or are supporting their families. Should older students remain unenrolled, they could age out of BPS eligibility, making them unable to attain a traditional high school degree.

The disenrollment also hit a few days before BPS calculates its enrollment numbers for each school — and thus determines the per-pupil funding the school will receive. Greater Egleston High School is a Level 3 school. Should its performance fall, however, it will become Level 4, and be required to enter turnaround, a process in which BPS typically elects to include mass dismissal of staff and teachers.

What happened?

By the governing board’s account, the 100-plus disenrolled students included both new students who had been accepted for enrollment beginning in September, and students from the prior year who were continuing to attend the school. The students received no notice or explanation from BPS about their removal, the governing board states.

Upon discovering the problem, Coles reached out to BPS to request the students’ reinstatement, the governing board said. BPS re-enrolled several students, before promptly disenrolling them once more. At BPS’s request, Coles provided information about the students to facilitate their re-enrollment, yet the district did not respond to receipt of this information or repeated follow-up messages, according to the governing board. Instead, Coles was put on administrative leave, without explanation provided. Superintendent Chang, meanwhile, said in a statement that he contacted the board before placing Coles on leave.

GEHS’ governing board co-chairs said they spent a month piecing together the chain of events through conversations and interviews with faculty, staff and students. As of Sept. 19, the affected students remained without explanation or resolution to their predicament.

Citing the ongoing investigation, a BPS spokesperson declined to answer the Banner’s questions on why the disenrollment occurred, or what guarantees would be made to ensure the students receive timely placement at Greater Egleston High and the school’s budget be adjusted to accommodate them. The spokesperson also declined to say how long the investigation is expected to take or if there is a deadline for it.

What’s next?

At present, BPS advises students who wish to attend Greater Egleston High to visit the district’s Re-Engagement Center, its office for handling enrollment of students who have dropped out, located in Madison Park Technical Vocational High School. According to BPS’ website, students must schedule an appointment in advance. Neil Sullivan, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council, which helps run the Re-Engagement Center, told The Boston Globe last week that the center is working quickly but had not received responses from all of the students to whom it reached out.

The GEHS governing board scheduled a community meeting for the evening of Tuesday Oct. 3, with a report expected to be presented to the Boston School Committee on Wednesday Oct 4.

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