The state Education Department won’t act on a complaint of teaching of religion by a charter school operator with schools in Arkansas. Department Director Tom Kimbrell referred the complainant to the operator of the schools.
The department today released its formal response to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which had complained about the teaching of religion (creationism) in biology materials used by Responsive Education Solutions. The private Texas-based management company operates state-financed schools in Little Rock, Bentonville and Pine Bluff and just won approval to operate a fourth, the Quest middle school in western Little Rock. It was the subject of an investigative piece in Slate about the strong influence of religious instruction in biology and character education and some questionable history instruction as well. The management company originally defended its biology materials as compliant with Texas law, but later said it would provide different material to resolve any potential complaints.
In a letter you can read below, Kimbrell said Arkansas does not choose instruction materials, it only sets curriculum standards. Though, on the one hand, Kimbrell said the state monitors curriculum standards, his letter gives no indication it plans to do so in the case of Responsive Ed. Rather, he said, decisions about curriculum are made at the local level. “For these reasons,” his letter said, “you should direct your specific concerns to the leadership of Responsive Education Solutions.” My own experience is that Responsive Ed is not responsive to questions from outside. It has provided legally required documents under FOI requests but has otherwise refused to talk to me about curriculum or admission policies at its new Little Rock charter school or its failure to tell the state Board of Education it was considering an alternate site when the board approved the location it had submitted.
Kimbrell included a copy of biology standards and a letter from Responsive Ed about its change in materials.
UPDATE: Jacqueline Froelich reports on Responsive Ed’s controversy here for KUAF. They wouldn’t talk to her directly either. A Walton-financed member of the UA faculty provides the usual defense for charter schools and state review of their applications.