The future of the all-boys charter school network Urban Prep Academies appears bleak.
After allegations of sexual and financial misconduct, the Chicago Board of Education voted in October to revoke Urban Prep’s charter.
The state school board denied an appeal in April, and a CPS takeover of Urban Prep’s Englewood and Bronzeville campuses looks imminent.
And despite an ongoing lawsuit, it appears CPS is intent on ending the once-lauded charter school’s involvement in public education in Chicago.
Dennis Lacewell, founding principal at Urban Prep’s Englewood campus and now the organization’s chief academic officer, said the charter network is being unfairly targeted.
“It’s an anti-charter climate, and it’s grown progressively anti-charter over the past couple of years,” said Lacewell. “But also, to be frank, we are the only Black organization that manages and operates a school for Black boys.”
Lacewell said that instead of embracing Urban Prep and the school’s achievements, people view the institution with hostility.
“Unfortunately, the history of this country is when individuals aren’t profiting or prospering off Black success or Black excellence, there is an attempt to destroy those,” said Lacewell. “So I don’t think this is a coincidence that we are the first (school) targeted in this way to (be forced to) close. And particularly when you look at the issues that CPS has had with proven allegations where criminal charges were taking place at schools who had this type of allegations, they haven’t closed those schools.”
Urban Prep founder and former CEO Tim King resigned in August after the Chicago Board of Education inspector general found he had “an inappropriate relationship” with a 16-year-old UPA student.
King denies wrongdoing and Lacewell said three other investigations failed to substantiate the allegations.
“There have been four investigations, two by DCFS, which came back to not substantiate any of this and a third by independent investigator that also did not substantiate any of these allegations,” said Lacewell. “So it’s only the CPS-connected investigation which came back with something.”
Lacewell also dismissed the allegations of financial misconduct leveled against the school’s management.
“Unfortunately, CPS, after sending us a letter praising us for our finances in January 2022, they then sent a letter going back and criticizing and claiming financial mismanagement going back to fiscal years ‘15, ‘16 and ‘17 when Gov. (Bruce) Rauner was the governor,” said Lacewell. “And we all know there was no state budget for two years. And the CPS response to that was they cut charter school budgets in the middle of the year for two consecutive years.”
In response to those budget cuts, instead of laying off staff or cutting programs, “we took out some loans, we got some credit cards to make ends meet during that time,” said Lacewell. “And since that time, we have resolved all of those (issues). So again, it’s just very disappointing that a decision is made with a lot of misrepresentation of the facts.”
“Why eliminate an institution that’s been successful for 17 years in educating Black boys?” asked Lacewell. “So to just downright eliminate is not the right answer for our city, not for our communities here in Chicago, particularly in the Black community.”
Despite the threat that is hanging over the future of Urban Prep, Lacewell said the school community remains committed.
“It’s been a challenge, but all of our stakeholders, the students, the staff, the families have exhibited our core value of resilience,” said Lacewell. “Since CPS made this announcement, we still have 95% of our students.
And so they’re unsuccessful in terms of really breaking the spirits of our families, our staff or our students.”
And going forward, there is the lawsuit.
“We believe this is a violation of the state moratorium as far as school closings because the moratorium is very clear that there should not be any school closings, consolidations or phase-out of any schools in Chicago until there’s an elected school board,” said Lacewell. “So, we are continuing to fight.”