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Legal Aid Group Puts City School Under Microscope

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Richmond's privately run disciplinary school, the Capital City Program, is in the cross hairs of a children's advocacy organization.

Under the jurisdiction of the Richmond Public Schools, the disciplinary school was established for the city's most challenging students.

The advocacy group, JustChildren — which is part of the Richmond-based Legal Aid Justice Center — recently began circulating a flier citywide soliciting information from parents whose children are enrolled at the school.

“Our work on [the Capital City Program] is focused on gathering community input, so right now we're interested in hearing from families, including students, about their experiences,” says Emily Dreyfus, community education and outreach director for JustChildren. She declines to discuss why the group is looking at the school. 

The school, on Baker Street in north Jackson Ward, has been subject of high praise and harsh criticism in seemingly equal measure during the past few years.

In January, an editorial by Mayor Dwight C. Jones touted the school's 180-day reform program as a key to Richmond's fixing its long-suffering school system, which has been plagued by high dropout and failure rates. The Richmond School Board recently bumped the school, which has 350 students, to the top of the list for a new building, a move championed by Jones.

For the last two years, the Capital City Program has been Virginia's only disciplinary-alternative school to achieve state accreditation under the Standards of Learning program. 

Despite these successes, a vocal group of black parent advocates, some referring to the school as “colored children's prison,” have complained that the school, run by the private Community Education Partners, demeans the students enrolled there.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit against Community Education Partners and Atlanta's public school system for allegedly violating students' constitutional right to a fair and adequate public education.

JustChildren plans a public hearing April 15 at 5:30 p.m. at the Legal Aid Justice Center, 123 E. Broad St.

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