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Charter School to Investigate Cheating Allegations

Capistrano Unified officials allege Oxford Prep may have cheated during the May STAR testing. The charter has hired a third-party investigator to look into the matter.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Story updated at 5:20 p.m. with comments from the district and OPA officials.

Amid allegations of cheating during statewide standardized testing, Oxford Preparatory Academy has hired a law firm to investigate the matter.

The Mission Viejo-based charter is expected to earn near-perfect scores on California’s Academic Performance Index to be released later this week. However, the school’s board of trustees voted to hire a law firm to investigate the testing after Capistrano Unified School District’s Superintendent Joe Farley informed OPA officials that the school’s charter could be revoked in the face of misconduct.

Capo spokesman Marcus Walton said there was little he could discuss publicly.

"The district cannot discuss this issue publicly, but will fulfill its obligations with any charter school for which it serves as a charting agency," he said.

OPA Superintendent Sue Roche said she knows the allegations will go unsubstantiated. Farley's letter was the first she had heard of them.

"Not one allegation has ever been stated to me at all," she said.

Still, the charter's own board of directors, acted immediately to investigate the claims, Roche said. 

Attorney Gregory Moser says in his letter to CUSD that his firm has been retained by OPA officials to conduct a third-party investigation into the matter. Moser sent a letter to the district, asking CUSD officials to detail the allegations in writing.

"We hope that the district and OPA can work cooperatively to determine whether the allegations of misconduct have any merit," Moser wrote.

On the other hand, should CUSD decide to run a separate investigation, OPA officials "will not grant the district separate access to its teachers and/or students," Moser wrote.

As first published at the Orange Juice Blog Sunday, Farley notified OPA last week that there may have been some misconduct at Oxford Preparatory Academy during the May Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, exams. The letter did not include specifics about the allegations.

In August, the state released the STAR results, and based on those results, OPA officials calculated what the school’s so-called API (Academic Performance Index) at .

At the direction of the OPA school board, Moser said, his firm, Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch of San Diego, has tapped another attorney to “examine these claims and direct corrective actions, if necessary.”

Moser told Patch the letter is authentic. 

"We expect the allegation made by the accompanying post to be disproven when testing data for Oxford Prep is publicly released by the state for this spring," he said. "Participation by at least 95 percent of the school's students is required under California's testing rules for scores to be valid."

Oxford opened in September 2011, sharing a campus with Barcelona Hills Elementary in Mission Viejo at the school district’s direction. Earlier this year, trustees decided to close Barcelona and allow Oxford to expand its K-8 student population.

Just this weekend, the charter announced that it will now apply to become a K-12 school in Capo. School officials have encouraged OPA supporters to attend to tonight’s CUSD school board meeting to show support.

Meanwhile, through the Orange Juice Blog, the Capistrano Unified Children First organization has called upon its supporters to also show up to tonight’s school board meeting. The blog predicts hundreds of parents will show up to demand the district conduct its own investigation into misconduct allegations.

The board meets 7 tonight at the district headquarters, 33122 Valle Road in San Juan Capistrano.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The manner in which Superintendent Joe Farley informed Oxford officials of possible misconduct is not clear from the OPA attorney's letter. The article has been edited to reflect this ambiguity.

orangeman October 18, 2012 at 10:19 PM
From reading about Independent Study on the OPA Web site, it would seem that the IS program provides a way to partially subvert the lottery process. Students/Parents must submit an application for IS and be accepted by OPA staff. Spots may open during the school year or the following year, and IS students get first priority over the regular lottery waiting list.
Linda Plass October 18, 2012 at 10:25 PM
In OPAs first year only (2011-2012 school year), IS students got priortity placement in the 2012-2013 school year. The charter was changed and IS students NO LONGER get priority placement. I have three IS students because we did not get permanent placement via the lottery. Presuming our wait list numbers do not come up this year which I don't expect them to because the wait list is so long, we will continue in IS next year, and we will have to REENTER the lottery next year in another attemp to get permanent placement. So, there is no first priority for IS students.
Frank October 22, 2012 at 07:09 PM
OPA has a track record for cheating at there other locations. Why would that not be any different at the MV school? CUSD must have enough evidence to prove OPA violated API scoring guidelines or they would not waste their time? The arogance of naive MV parents that this cheating couldn't be true is overwhelming? The MV parents worked hard to push a charter school into Barcelona and now CUSD will probably take the school back once the investigation is concluded. The conservative parents should of left well enough alone?
Tyra October 22, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Is there proof of this supposed "track record of cheating" at their other locations? How is standing up for our school being arrogant or naive? We obviously believe in this school or our children would not be here. Quite honestly, I am sick of the name calling and the bashing of OPA, it's parents and it's teachers just because it has proven successful and may not be the right choice for some. The operative word here is CHOICE. Thank goodness I have a choice in where to send my children to school. If CUSD had any evidence of OPA cheating, would they not have produced it already? My guess is that this "investigation" is going to be dragged out as long as the district can drag it out in an effort to drain OPA's resources. I also want to remind you that CUSD is the one that pushed OPA into Barcelona. The district put us there! We certainly did not choose it. When I had kids I certainly never thought I would have to fight so hard for their education. While disheartening, frustrating, and sickening it is sometimes to have to deal with some of the nasty comments and resistance that I have seen and read about, I will continue to fight and stand up for what I believe in!
grandma October 25, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Maybe at the next "Star" testing CUSD Board members along with a parent should sit in each classroom during the testing to monitor the testing. Allegation of cheating has occurred at every district, whether the scores were low or high.

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