Nearly three years after complaints were brought forth about an alleged culture of abuse of power, sexual harassment, and other unprofessional conduct of former Odyssey Community Charter School principal Christopher Bugbee, the State Department of Education (SDE) began revocation proceedings against him. Bugbee reached an agreement with the SDE to surrender his teacher/administrator certification.
“While we are pleased that action has finally been taken in this case,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen, “it is inconceivable that due to the lack of charter school accountability, it took three years to address the serious reports from teachers who were victimized by the shocking actions of the school principal. This type of behavior is inexcusable and must never be permitted in our schools. The state must do more to protect our educators, 70 percent of whom are women, from any reported sexual harassment and abuse inflicted upon them.”
As early as 2015, complaints of alleged discriminatory practices, and other alleged unethical behaviors were brought to the attention of Odyssey’s then executive director and the president of the Board of Trustees. Teachers say their complaints against Bugbee fell on deaf ears until they reached out to CEA.
“It is outrageous that the Odyssey School Board of Trustees and administrators ignored teachers’ concerns and dismissed these serious complaints until CEA got involved. The state must now investigate the actions of both the trustees and administrators for their complicity in the case, their abject disregard for teachers’ well-being and safety, and their failure to intercede and address the situation,” said Cohen.
Charter schools must be held accountable to prevent these and other serious incidents from going unchecked. In a traditional public school, misconduct is never allowed to continue; administrators are held accountable, and action is taken swiftly—not three years later.
A teacher also notified the SDE of alleged unethical behavior including alleged discriminatory practices and sexual harassment by Bugbee, in May 2016. In July 2016, CEA assisted teachers in filing an unfair labor practice with the State Board of Labor Relations. And in early August 2016, CEA provided the SDE with the teachers’ request for the revocation of Bugbee’s teacher/administrator certificate, along with supporting sworn affidavits.
“This is a sign of a larger, systemic problem—the lack of transparency and oversight at charter schools, which are allowed to operate under different rules from other public schools and given more latitude to run their schools despite receiving millions of dollars in state education funding,” said CEA Executive Director Donald Williams.
The situation at Odyssey is just one of numerous reports of unscrupulous activities allowed to continue unimpeded at charter schools. Just last month, the State Board of Education began revocation proceedings for Path Academy in Windham and its charter management organization, Our Piece of the Pie, after reports found blatant misconduct including apparently defrauding the state of nearly $1.6 million, billing the state for 128 students not enrolled in the school, operating unauthorized schools, and excessive absenteeism.
“These are not single incidents but a troubling trend among charter schools that are able to dodge often lax reporting requirements, despite the fact that they receive state funding. These cases, and so many others, prove our concerns to be justified and further underscore the need for greater accountability and transparency for charter schools and charter school management organizations, which receive taxpayer dollars with little or no oversight,” added Williams.
The state was required to provide systemic oversight for state charters several years ago, after an investigation at Jumoke Academy Charter School in Hartford found ineffective oversight of the school and its management group. Continued offenses at charter schools such as Odyssey, Path Academy, and multiple others, reveal that little has changed.
CEA is calling on the state to create effective oversight to hold charter schools accountable for their actions.
“These are serious problems that affect students, teachers, parents, and communities, and they cannot be allowed to continue. The state must step up and demand accountability and transparency of all charter schools, or state funding should be withheld,” said Cohen.
The Connecticut Education Association is Connecticut’s largest teachers’ union, representing active and retired educators across the state.