Charter Schools: A Raw Deal for Students with IEP’s

By Dailey Evans, educator at Denny International Middle School


Summit Atlas opened its’ doors in the Fall of 2017 in West Seattle on the corner of 35th and Roxbury. The school serves students in grades 6-12. Seeing as I work at Denny International Middle School, which serves students in the same neighborhoods, I was anxious to see how it would affect enrollment numbers for our school this year.

As part of building relationships between home and school, and also with hope of helping to ease the transition between elementary and middle school, our 6th grade teachers set up home visits prior to the school year starting. This was the first time I began to understand the magnitude at which Summit Atlas was drawing kids away from Denny. Out of 14 students in my first period, 2 parents stated their students were scheduled to start at Summit Atlas. After meeting with several other teachers, they had similar results. 

About a month in, a colleague shared a story about representatives showing up at a West Seattle Elementary after school event in attempts to lure parents to Summit Atlas, even going so far as to offer bags of Hot Cheetos to students if they would take applications to their parents. The same colleague shared an article from the blog about Eric Anderson (Director, Research & Evaluation at Seattle Public Schools) setting up meetings with representatives from Summit Charter Schools. I say this because the Seattle School Board voted to have no interest in becoming a charter school authorizer, therefore not having any involvement or interaction with charter schools. 

At Denny we have had two sixth-grade students leave Summit Atlas and enroll here after the start of the school year, both of whom have IEP’s. On a related note, we have had zero students start at Denny and then transfer to Summit. The terminology that Summit Atlas and many charter schools prefer to use is “counsel out,” which is really just another way of saying “expel” or “kick out.”

For one student, the administrators demanded a meeting with the student’s mom, but the mom has a job and could not make it within their time frame, so they suggested that he try out another school. For the other student, the details are still unclear, but given that he enrolled at Denny only several days before Winter Break, I would be willing to bet it was under similar circumstances. Moving schools in the middle of the school year is a terrible experience, but moving schools because Summit Atlas has made it known that you are no longer welcome is traumatizing, no matter how they choose to frame it.

At Denny our school motto is “We All Belong,” and as an IEP teacher and case manager, I stand behind this motto 100%. I would hope that any school accepting public funds would abide by a similar motto or standard, but it appears that Charter schools make their own rules. 

Summit Atlas throws around the term “personalized learning” pretty frequently, which appears to mean nothing more than time stuck on a computer, working through various lessons. In one video that Summit posted under their “Our Curriculum” section, it’s main point seems to be that students do a ton of work on computers. From talking with the students who were enrolled there and former students that are still enrolled there, they spend way too much time on computers. This Google Review posted by Anson Singer seems to prove this:                    

“Classes at Summit Atlas seem to never end! Teachers say that they want to ‘give you the support you need’ and yet we end up spending an hour (out of the hour and a half class period) on the computers, which may I add have about every site blocked, even sites or resources we need for the painfully long and unnecessary projects are blocked. In these projects, there are checkpoints which are basically projects in and among themselves, counting for much of the grade you get for the project. So in the situation that one could get a 100% on the final project, if they didn’t do good on their checkpoints, their grade would be dropped significantly to as low as a 50%!!!”