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Published: Saturday, 7/19/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

FBI, state investigate charter schools’ owner

Chain with 2 local sites faces numerous allegations

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A charter-school chain with two Toledo locations and more than a dozen sites across Ohio faces federal and state investigations based on a string of allegations about its operations.

FBI agents served search warrants last month at several schools in Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana run by Concept Schools, a Chicago-based company that manages the Horizon Science Academy and Nobel Academy chains, according to a spokesman for the bureau.

Accusations of misconduct this week by former staff of Horizon Science Academy Dayton High School have led the Ohio Department of Education to investigate that school, and possibly more.

While the FBI would not comment on where search warrants were executed, current and former staff at Toledo-area Horizon schools said an email from school leaders instructed them to not shred documents because the school was under investigation.

The FBI is working with the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Education on its investigation.

Horizon has locations on Sylvania Avenue and Reynolds Road.

A third Toledo school announced in May it would close.

Concept Schools said the federal investigation involves the E-Rate program, a federal technology grant program for schools.

“We have been asked to provide information and are cooperating with the government in this matter,” a company statement said.

On Tuesday, former Horizon Dayton teachers testified before the Ohio Board of Education, alleging test cheating, improper sexual behavior by students, and other misconduct, according to media reports.

Board members pledged to investigate.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald called Friday for ODE Superintendent Richard Ross’ resignation after John Charlton, a department spokesman, was reported by Gongwer News Service as calling the testimony a “political act” and possibly insinuating that teachers had failed to report abuse promptly.

“This is what happens when you weaken accountability and oversight,” Mr. FitzGerald said.

Both Mr. FitzGerald and the Ohio Education Association called for independent investigations of the teachers’ claims.

Mr. Charlton said Friday that the education department will investigate the claims at the Dayton school and could broaden its inquiry to Horizon schools across the state.

“The department of education does not engage in partisan politics,” he said. “We take every allegation or complaint seriously and the department will look into it.”

Concept has faced scrutiny for its Turkish roots. The company was founded by Turkish educators, and most leadership positions are filled by Turks.

The company has also used dozens of H1-B visas for Turkish teachers. A 2011 U.S. Department of Labor investigation hasn’t resulted in any public action.

Concept, along with several affiliated companies, has faced scrutiny for alleged affiliations with the Gulen Movement, a Turkish-based Islamic movement led by Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.



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