Hundreds of parents and students enrolled at Education Plus Academy Cyber Charter School were left scrambling Tuesday when the troubled cyber school announced that it was closing its learning and tutoring centers, and laying off 30 staffers immediately.
The closings affect 410 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, including 260 in the Philadelphia area, who have been receiving online instruction in classrooms at the centers.
Nicholas Torres, the school's CEO, said that Education Plus was retaining the lead teachers from the six learning centers, and that displaced students would be able to continue to receive instruction from them online in their homes. They also would have access to some supplemental special education services at the centers.
Jo-Ann Rogan said her sixth grader with special needs wept in the car on the way home to Roxborough from the Elkins Park center. Ryan Rogan struggled in a traditional public school, she said, but thrived at Ed Plus.
"The teachers there have been with us for three years, and they've watched him blossom," Rogan said. "When I picked Ryan up, we were all hugging and crying."
Elaine Vallejo, whose son attended the learning center in Northeast Philadelphia, said the news came suddenly. "The sad part is, tonight I have to tell my son he has to go back to the Philadelphia public school where he was bullied," she said. "My heart is beyond broken right now. I am so angry."
Parents are planning to demonstrate against the closing at 9 a.m. Monday outside the center at 7360 Jackson St.
In a letter to parents Tuesday, Torres blamed the cyber's financial difficulties on the continuing stalemate over the state budget.
But several former staffers said Ed Plus' financial problems stemmed partly from questionable decisions, such as buying new furniture for the administrative offices in Wayne.
Torres said he could not explain why no other cyber and charter schools have been affected as severely as Ed Plus. But he said the school, which he cofounded, spent its money on educational services and had not accumulated reserves as many cyber schools have done.
"We don't have the big reserves, and we've only been around for 31/2 years," he said. "We were tapped out sooner than the others."
The school, which opened in 2012, focuses on students with special learning needs.
Education Plus got into trouble with the state for operating more like a bricks-and-mortar charter school than a cyber one, and recently shuttered five of its learning and tutoring centers statewide.
The board of directors of Ed Plus has scheduled a special board meeting at 3:30 p.m. next Wednesday to "consider the current circumstances and the road forward," the letter to parents said. "Please know that we are doing our best to make Education Plus Academy a real educational choice."
That may mean an attempt to convert Ed Plus to a bricks-and-mortar charter school in Philadelphia. An application filed with the School District last week said Ed Plus would not operate in 2016-17 because the state Department of Education was requiring it to become "cyber only," like the 13 other online charter schools.
As a result, Public Health Management Corp. - a founding partner of the proposed City Academy Charter School - said it would incorporate Ed Plus's academic model, combining online and classroom instruction, as well as its focus on special learning needs, and absorb some Ed Plus educators and families.
The City Academy application said parents of 152 city children enrolled at Ed Plus had sent letters on behalf of the proposed charter.