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Silent so far, Memphis charter leaders to get to make the case to keep their school open

Caroline Bauman/Chalkbeat

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 – the Memphis charter school that district officials say broke state law – will have the chance to publicly make the case for why the school board should not vote to close the school.

Shelby County Schools will meet Monday at 4 p.m. to hear from leaders at the school that a district investigation found guilty of falsifying grades and other serious charges. The board could vote as soon as Tuesday to close the high school at the end of the school year.

If the board votes to close the school, Gateway has 10 calendar days to appeal to the state Board of Education. The state board will then hold a hearing in Memphis, and either will side with the local Memphis district or overturn its decision, which would keep the school open.

Shelby County Schools rarely recommends closing charter schools, but lately has ramped up oversight in evaluating applications for new charter schools and monitoring current schools with low test scores and poor operations. Since the first charter school opened in Tennessee in 2003, the state board has only overturned 15 out of 72 school board decisions to approve, revoke, or renew a charter.

Gateway University was investigated by the district following a June Chalkbeat report into allegations by former staff members. Several of those allegations were substantiated by the district investigation, including that the school falsified student grades and relied on uncertified teachers.

The two-year-old school also didn’t have a legitimate governing board and hired an employee that did not clear a background check, according to the district.

The school’s founder and leader, Sosepriala Dede, has not been present at the two public meetings thus far where Gateway’s future has been discussed by district board members. Gateway parents also have not visibly been at the public meetings.

In a document released ahead of Monday’s hearing, Gateway University responded via a lawyer to the district’s investigation in October. In the letter, Gateway says that it has a functioning board for this school year, and that its leaders dispute that Dede asked teachers to change grades.

On the employee hired without a background check, the letter says: “Gateway notes that the employee about whom this allegation is related is no longer employed with Gateway. In fact, the employee was only employed for a short time in 2017.”

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