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‘There was an intent to cover up’: Behind the push to close Gateway University Charter School

Editor’s note: Gateway University Charter School was ordered to shut down a year after a Chalkbeat investigation into the Memphis high school found the administration falsified grades, improperly employed uncertified teachers, and awarded credits for a geometry class that did not exist. Find other articles in this series here

Gateway University Charter School gave out grades for classes that did not exist, hired an employee who did not clear a background check, and had an inactive governing board.

Those findings fueled Shelby County Schools’ decision to recommend closing the school, a top district official told members of the school board’s academic committee Tuesday evening.

What’s more, said Brad Leon, the district’s chief of strategy and performance management, the school’s leaders had lied to district investigators.

“There was an intent to cover up, lie, and falsify records,” Leon said. “There was an intent to deceive.”

The discussion filled in the blanks in a saga that began seven months ago following a Chalkbeat investigation into the school. The district launched its own investigation and, this week, recommended the school’s closure. The district shared a summary of its findings with the school in October but did not make its findings public until this week.

Read our in-depth investigation into Gateway University here, which was first published in June.

Leon said parents of the school’s 165 students had not yet been notified of the district’s investigation or its findings, but an email would go out to them Wednesday morning. If the board votes to close Gateway at the end of the academic year, parents should have enough time to look for a school elsewhere, Leon said. That vote could come at the board’s Jan. 29 meeting.

Sosepriala Dede, Gateway’s founder and leader, was not present at Tuesday’s meeting. On Monday, he told Chalkbeat he would appeal the district’s closure recommendation.

Board members and district officials said they found one problem at the school especially galling. Gateway gave seven students credit for geometry but did not employ a geometry teacher last year and did not provide instruction for the course, said Alex Roberson, who works for the district in school governance and compliance.

Roberson said that four of those seven students remain at Gateway and are retaking geometry this year. The other three have gone to other schools, he added.

Board members had few questions about Gateway University during a district presentation on why the charter school should close.

Board members had few questions about Gateway University during a district presentation on why the charter school should close.

Caroline Bauman

“I’m concerned about the quality of education those students received, especially students who did not have access to a teacher in a tested subject,” board member Miska Clay Bibbs told Chalkbeat.

Another board member, Stephanie Love, asked Leon if he had considered looking for similar issues at the rest of the 54 charter schools under Shelby County Schools’ supervision. Leon said that the district would have to think carefully about what that could entail. But, he said, “An audit might be wise.”

You can read the investigation summary in full below, which cites Chalkbeat’s previous reporting. The district’s presentation to the board is further below.