EducationLocal

Rocketship DC Public Charter Still Facing Uphill Battle

Alleged Kidnapping Leads to Swift Changes in Security Protocol

Rocketship Rise Academy Public Charter School in Southeast continues to reel from reports of an alleged on-campus kidnapping with administrators recently announcing the immediate implementation of new security protocol. They will also take control of after-care programming on both campuses effective later this month.  

As parents first learned of the early October incident in a letter sent home last week, most discussions have focused on the ease with which the suspect, a registered sex offender, entered the school and the school’s nearly three-week delay in communication — both issues Regional Director Joyanna Smith has attempted to address. 

“Our director of schools was notified about the incident and contacted Springboard and its CEO in Boston to ask about the incident report,” Smith told The Informer in her account of the events leading up to the termination of Springboard’s contract, slated for an effective date of Nov. 14.

On Oct. 11, Springboard, a onetime DCPS partner until August, provided daycare services at Rocketship Rise Academy during parent-teacher conferences. That afternoon, the alleged kidnapper entered Rocketship Rise Academy behind a woman he pointed out as his child’s mother. After playing basketball and conversing with two brothers, the alleged kidnapper attempted to walk them off the campus before an employee stopped him. 

Hearing the commotion nearby, an off-duty MPD officer working for Rocketship Rise Academy questioned and later arrested the alleged kidnapper after discovering he had an outstanding warrant. Smith said Rocketship Rise Academy Principal Corey Lewis, in his message to D.C. Director of Schools Joshua Pacos, didn’t provide much information about the incident, the details then still unfolding.

The following Tuesday, Lewis privately met with the children’s mother who asked why Springboard personnel failed to validate the intruder’s ID before allowing him to leave the school grounds with her sons. More than a week after the alleged kidnapping, Springboard still hadn’t provided any answers to that query, or any others regarding the security breach.  

“We didn’t receive an incident report until October 29,” Smith continued in her explanation of the delay of information to parents. “A decision was made not to share information with parents until we had real answers. We consider that a mistake. We should’ve notified parents when we had partial information.” 

Since last week, Rocketship Rise Academy has enforced mandatory checks for identification. Schools leaders have also met with Keeon Bassett, chairperson of ANC 8B, Ward 8 State Board of Education Representative Markus Batchelor and Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White (D). 

A DC Public Charter School Board (DCPCSB) hearing at Trinity Washington University in Northeast on the evening of November 18 will delve into the steps taken to prevent future kidnappings and the nature of Rocketship Rise Academy’s parent and community engagement. 

Rocketship Rise Academy, in existence since 2016, counts as one of two D.C.-based schools in the Rocketship Public Schools Network, On Oct. 28, just days before Rocketship Rise Academy parents learned about the incident, the DCPCSB approved the 2020 launch of Rocketship’s Ward 5 campus, a process that will culminate in a pre-opening inspection within a matter of months. 

However, whether that will now happen remains unclear especially since some Ward 8 officials, including Batchelor, continue to raise questions in the wake of Rocketship’s controversial announcement. Last Friday, Batchelor, like many of his constituents, took to social media to express his frustration.

“[This is] an incredible and potentially tragic lapse in judgement,” he said. 

“The contract with Springboard, who had already demonstrated their lack of diligence in protecting our kids, should have been terminated long ago. The fact that this happened & families, community weren’t informed is insane. So, my question is: who gets held accountable?” 

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