Activists Sue the Seattle School District, Saying It Signed an $800,000 Contract It Didn't Understand

Cleveland High School is in the hot seat once again.
Seemingly emboldened by meteorologist Cliff Mass' victorious suit against the Seattle School District over its math curriculum, education activists have turned once again to the courts in an effort to overturn district policy. The target this time is the district's pricey plan to overhaul Cleveland High School.

According to the complaint, the terms of that contract will result in a project that's even pricier than has been disclosed--and other schools will suffer as a consequence.

Four parents and one former principal-- Rickie Malone, the onetime head of the now closed African American Academy--have filed suit in King County Superior Court, claiming the district conducted inadequate research before agreeing to an $800,000 contract with an Ohio non-profit called the New Technology Network. NTN has been hired to help transform Cleveland into a so-called school of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

The activists maintain that an agreement with NTN requires Cleveland to be split into two separate and distinct schools--rather than two "academies," or schools within a school, as the district has characterized the plan.

The agreement, which is posted on the district's Web site, does indeed refer to two schools (See Exhibit D of the agreement) and also appears to require each one to have its own principal and staff. (See Exhibit B) The suit asserts that will end up costing more than $800,000, and money will be taken from other schools to make up the difference.

In an e-mail last week to two other activists, district Chief Academic Officer Susan Enfield acknowledged that there was a "requirement for separate schools," but said NTN has agreed that the plan for two academies, both under one principal, would be good enough.

The suit also claims that NTN, which helps run 40 schools around the country, has produced "substandard" results, especially in math. NTN could not be immediately reached for comment, and the district declines to discuss its rationale given the pending litigation.

A number of district critics started talking about filing suit over Cleveland after Mass succeeded in getting King County Superior Judge Julie Spector to declare the district's choice of the Discovering Math textbooks series for high-schoolers to be "arbitrary and capricious." She only required officials to review the matter, not to switch books. Even so, the district has appealed that ruling, a decision that took many people by surprise.

The plaintiffs in the current suit also oppose the district's choice of math textbooks, according to their sometimes meandering brief (see pdf), and that may give one indication as to why the district appealed: Spector's ruling encourages critics to question all sorts of district decisions in court.

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