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Parents, students fleeing troubled charter school

More than 75 children withdraw from school; some cite bullying

SUNRISE, Fla. – So far a whopping 77 elementary-aged students have been withdrawn from the troubled Paramount Charter School in Sunrise, citing a lack of organization, the firing of teachers, bullying and a lack of security.

That's a full 25 percent of students who have been enrolled at the taxpayer-funded school, which today has 229 students left, according to school board records.

That has left many of those young students in educational limbo, like 11-year-old Shania, whose mother, Tracy Jackson, enrolled her and two other children into the school hoping it would be an improvement over public school.

Because Jackson hasn't been able to find a public school that can take all three of her children, Shania and her siblings have missed three weeks of school.

"I'm afraid I might get left back," said Shania at home during a recent school day.

Jackson, a struggling single mom, said she, like so many other parents in the Lauderhill area, enrolled her children into Paramount after the upstart charter school sent fliers to her home making promises of providing a great education. She said it was a tough decision to pull her children out of public school but felt they weren't safe there after she said Shania was bullied by several other girls at the schools, culminating in her getting jumped and beaten up in the hallway. Shania said four girls jumped her and beat her on her head with their fists until a janitor at the school intervened.

Jackson said no one at the school, including administrator Maia Williams, contacted her to tell her about the assault.

"My kid just came home, got beaten up with a knot on her head, and nobody did anything about it, nobody," Jackson said. "There's no security at that school."

Shania said she was deeply relieved when her mother took her out of the school, saying she was suffering from anxiety and headaches from the strain of being bullied.

"I wanted to leave the school because I couldn't deal with all that stress," she said.

But after missing three weeks of school, a new kind of stress is starting to take hold -- of falling behind in her education.

"I'm afraid I might get left back," Shania said.

Williams, the Paramount administrator, acknowledged that her school had an issue with bullying and said that was one of the reasons teachers were fired before she stopped commenting altogether.

But some parents said the problem was the result of a new charter school approved by the Broward County School Board that was terribly mismanaged from day one. One parent, Victor Arriola, wrote an email to Local 10 News and several local politicians last week complaining that the lunchroom early in the morning at the school -- which has received $740,000 in tax dollars so far and is slated to receive as much as $3 million this year -- was in virtual chaos, with more than 200 students gathered and no adult supervision whatsoever.

"There were multiple kids fighting and running throughout the cafeteria and no one was there to bring order or protect all the small children that were being bullied by the older kids," Arriola wrote. "I went outside and notified an employee that there were no adults or security present. The gentleman came inside and he started running around trying to control some of the kids that were fighting. I asked the gentleman, why were the kids unattended? He informed me that he was the janitor and that he was just trying to help."

Arriola said he was told by another half-dozen parents that it was a daily occurrence. He said that when the school administrator, Williams, arrived he wanted to complain but wasn't able to "because all of the enraged parents were trying to speak to [her] at the same time."

"There is no security and kids as young as 5 years old are left unattended," wrote Arriola. "There are many tragedies that can happen if this is not rectified. Any person with a malicious intent can come in and cause harm to our kids due to lack of security and supervision."

Indeed, Sunrise police records show that Sept. 21 a 63-year-old man suffering from schizophrenia and Alzheimer's who had walked away from a nearby health care facility and was off his medications somehow got into the school and began "touching his groin."

"I would like to know how that man got past there in the school and started fondling himself in front of children," said Jackson. "That's just ridiculous."

The school board, which oversees the school but has little regulatory power under lenient state laws, paid a visit to the school last week, but found no security issues that "would merit an investigation." Arriola said that after he complained about the lunchroom mayhem, the school staffed the cafeteria.

Sunrise Mayor Michael Ryan, citing the Local 10 News investigation, said he was concerned about students at the school.

"We cannot experiment with our children's education," Ryan wrote in an email to Superintendent Robert Runcie. "We will continue to evaluate what, if anything, we can do from the city perspective."

More children, meanwhile, are being pulled from the school. Last week parent Shanice Hansen pulled her 9-year-old son Brandon from the school, roughly three weeks after she went to police about what she said was relentless bullying of the boy by an older and bigger girl.

"On the second day of school the girl she started punching me and hitting me," Brandon said, adding he had no idea why.

"He was upset, telling me about it he'd go to crying," his great grandmother, Dorothy Freeman, said. "He would tell me how the girl would do him. She would push him down, tear up his pants, took his phone and choke him and she just kept doing that the whole time."

It was so bad that Brandon, who was never bullied or in trouble when he attended Plantation Elementary the year before, would tell his family that there was no school the following day to try to keep from having to ride the bus, where the bullying occurred. The family finally called police Sept. 18 and the school "reassured (the family) that they will be addressing the issue ... to make sure the bullying stops."

But the family said the bullying continued until finally a bus driver witnessed the girl choking Brandon on the bus and she was suspended from the bus for four days.

"They wouldn't be qualified to supervise a pet shop," his grandmother, Monica Mayo, said. "We didn't feel that he was safe there."

Mayo also echoed other parents' concerns about constant use of substitute teachers and a general lack of education there.

"There was always a substitute and children were always in music class or watching a movie," Mayo said. "He never even had any homework."

The family pulled him out of the school last week and are currently trying to get him enrolled back in a public school, just as Jackson is trying to do.

"I regret that school," Jackson said. "I wish I never got a flier. I wish I never applied. I wish I could just turn back the hands of time."

When asked what should be done about the school, Shania is clear about what she believes.

"That school needs to be shut down immediately," she said.

Follow Bob Norman on Twitter @NormanOn10

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