All four campuses of a local charter school district — San Antonio School of Inquiry and Creativity — have been shuttered by the state after reports of rotting cafeteria meat, nepotism, and administrative neglect were made public in February.
SASIC Superintendent Tonja Nelson was alerted Wednesday by the Texas Education Agency to immediately suspend school operations "until the agency determines the school is able to adequately safeguard the welfare and safety of its students." Until then, the agency added, the district would be cut off from all state funding streams.
The state's biggest problem with the district appears to be its alleged food safety violations in the school cafeteria. A district teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous, said the school had been serving weeks-old ground beef that had been sitting in a dangerously warm refrigerator over the school's winter break.
"There were puddles of meat blood on the floor when they got back to school," said Rep. Diego Bernal, who also says he's good friends with this teacher. Bernal says he wouldn't have known how bad the conditions were at SASIC — and then demand state intervention — without his friend bringing it to his attention in an early February meeting. And it wasn't just spoiled meat. The teacher left Bernal with a long list of concerns — everything from administrators hiring family members to campus safety officers "roughhousing" kids.
Bernal believes he was the last resort for his friend, who had hit a wall trying to bring his and other teachers' complaints to SASIC administration for months.
"It had become too much, and gone on far too long," Bernal said. "He knew his job was on the line — but cared more about his students' well-being at this point." Hours after this February 10 meeting, Bernal penned a letter to TEA
Commissioner Mike Morath demanding an investigation.
Since parents were given no warning of the school's closure, Bernal's office is now conducting what he calls "education triage" — trying to help relocate the hundreds of untethered students as fast as possible. Which, he said, is the worst outcome of SASIC's mismanagement.
"The setting may have been bad, but the relationships between the teachers and their students were real and were positive," Bernal said. "I hate that we're forced to disrupt that."
SASIC officials did not return the Current
's request to comment on TEA's action on Thursday — but later released a statement denying the accusations that shuttered its campuses. "We are confident that SASIC’s buildings, staff, and food are safe," wrote SASIC spokeswoman Gina Luciano. TEA is holding a public hearing Friday in Austin to gather more input from parents, teachers, and administrators.
Bernal is unsure how long TEA will need to thoroughly investigate SASIC's campuses. According to a SASIC Facebook post, however, all campuses plan on reopening March 20. The post ends on a high note: "We hope you have a wonderful extended Spring Break!!!"
It may be more extended than they think.