Epic Charter Schools
The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, to demand the refunding of more than $11 million from Epic Charter Schools. The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted Tuesday, Oct. 13, to begin a process for terminating Epic One-On-One's contract. (Tres Savage)

The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved a motion today to enter the process for terminating their charter authorization contract with Epic One-on-One Charter Schools owing to alleged violations.

“As a society, it is essential that we provide a healthy mix of    educational opportunities to support all types of students and all types of life circumstances. Online charter schools must continue to be one of those choices,” SVCSB Chairman John Harrington said during the meeting. “That is why it’s important that we work hard to safeguard our online schools and educational resources. One way to protect them is to insist that schools respect their obligations and conduct themselves with integrity. This responsibility starts with a commitment from a school’s board of directors and extends to it’s superintendent, staff and third-party vendors. This standard applies to every Oklahoma public school, including our six online public charter schools.”

While Rose State College is the authorizers for the Epic Blended school, Epic One-on-One has been under the oversight of SVCSB since April 2014. The charter was last renewed on July 2018. Charter authorizers are allowed to retain up to 5 percent of state aid received from the State Department of Education, with a remainder of the funds being transferred to the charter schools.

According to the Epic audit released by the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office on Oct. 1, SCVSB also has the responsibility of maintaining oversight and evaluation of the charter school, which includes data and evidence collection, site visits, attendance and governing board meetings, school website compliance checks, annual review and opportunity for school response, and performance reports.

The audit states that officials found evidence that some of these suggested practices were being carried out. Some others may not have been.

During Monday’s State Board of Education meeting, the deputy director of the special investigative unit of the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office, Brenda Holt, addressed the board regarding SVCSB’s oversight of Epic.

“The virtual board did have policies in place to define their oversight. They did some on-site reviewing, but they also heavily  relied on outside reports,” Holt said Monday.  “Although they did have some good processes in place, it probably just was not enough as far as the in-depth review of the actual records and supporting information.”

The SVCSB was created in 2012 and authorizes charter schools in Oklahoma, including Epic, E-School Virtual Charter Academy, Insight School of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Connections Academy, Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy and the Oklahoma Information and Technology School.

‘This process is the way to hear both sides’

On Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Marie Schuble presented the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board with details about how the process for potentially terminating the Epic charter contract would work.

Entering the termination process allows a hearing to be scheduled 90 days after today’s meeting. At that hearing, Schuble will present evidence to show contract violation. Epic will be allowed to present evidence as to why the contract should not be terminated.

“This process is the way to hear both sides,” Schuble said. “The way that this board is able to hear both sides is by entering into this process to allow that to happen. Just because we start this process does not mean that termination is the only option.”

Schuble referenced a failure to meet the standards of fiscal management set forth in terms of the contract — as well as alleged violations of local, state, federal and tribal law — as cause the board would have for terminating its sponsorship contract with Epic.

“I believe that the factual allegations I’ve included in this document, if proven, do constitute violations of the charter contract between this board and Community Strategies,” Schuble said. “I’m asking this board to take this necessary action to initiate this process to enforce the terms of your contract with Community Strategies Inc.”

Community Strategies Inc. serves as the governing board for both Epic schools.

‘An emotional rush to judgement causes more uncertainty for families’

During public comment, superintendent of Epic Charter Schools Bart Banfield requested that the board not act rashly until they receive the work papers from the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office and allow Epic an opportunity to respond.

Banfield was appointed by Community Strategies as superintendent at the beginning of Fiscal Year 2020.

“I’m not asking you today to ignore the state audit,” Banfield said. “I’m asking you to take the audit under advisement and allow Epic an opportunity within 60 days of our organization receiving the work papers from SAI to prove that we are fully compliant with the terms of our contract and with the law.”

Banfield said there is no way for Epic to accurately dispute work papers school leaders haven’t seen yet.

“An emotional rush to judgement causes more uncertainty for families at the very time they need stability and security,” Banfield said. “It would hurt more than 61,000 students and their families who have chosen Epic Charter Schools this year.”

Banfield also referenced the 2,100 employees of Epic that would be affected by a decision to pull the charter sponsorship.

“Take no action today that will adversely impact out students, teachers, staff and their collective families and wait for the release of the work papers from the state auditor and our ability to scrutinize them and respond,” Banfield said. “Allow the attorney general’s special counsel to do her work, to determine the facts and make them known to all impacted bodies.”

Response: ‘Fairness did not prevail today’

In a press release from Epic after the meeting, Banfield responded to the board’s decision to pursue the process of possibly terminating its contract with the charter school.

“Fairness did not prevail today, but it’s important to understand what did happen. The SVCSB voted to initiate the process to terminate, but it is a process that provides EPIC due process with that board, as well as other legal options,” Banfield said. “So far, only one side of the story has been allowed to be told. We are confident that once we have the audit work papers and have as much opportunity to present our side of the audit as the state auditor has been provided, we will prevail for our more than 2,100 employees and the families of our more than 60,000 students.”