Placement of Richard Milburn Academy students questioned after Manatee County school closes

ataylor@bradenton.comNovember 4, 2011 

BRADENTON -- Monica Rodriguez-Valdez can’t help but be concerned about her oldest son. The straight-A student who flourished at Richard Milburn Academy was enrolled at Southeast High School recently so that he could graduate.

Bradenton’s Richard Milburn Academy, an alternative charter school for students ages 17 to 22, closed Monday. On Tuesday, chairs, desks and other classroom equipment were loaded onto a Manatee County School District truck from the 6210 17th Ave. W. school.

“Everything that has been purchased with public funding has to go back,” said Donna Eldridge, vice president of Richard Milburn Academy’s High School Division. “Most of the district items will be moved out this week.”

The school was closed after a district investigation revealed students were not fulfilling graduation requirements and courses did not comply with Florida State Standards.

Students classified as “special needs” did not qualify for that classification and others were enrolled in multiple core classes -- such as Algebra I and Algebra II -- at the same time. Plus, academic grades did not reflect some student performances.

Rodriguez-Valdez said her son earned his grades. He didn’t receive a form from district officials saying he had to give up class credits like other students. As the school planned for closure, each student was advised of their educational options.

Rodriguez-Valdez did not like the options given to her son. He was advised to take the GED with three credits remaining before being eligible to graduate, she said.

“My son deserves to graduate with his cap and gown,” Rodriguez-Valdez said.

So she enrolled him at Southeast High School. But others who have attended Richard Milburn are not having as much luck.

Those older than 18 can’t enroll in a district school. Manatee Technical Institute and, in some cases, the job corps appear to be their best options.

Some students have been ushered to the school district’s Life Program -- a dropout prevention program. That program, however, was turning some former Milburn students away, Rodriguez-Valdez said.

Administrators of Horizon’s Life Program did not return repeated phone calls. Verdya Bradley, associate director of innovative programs and parental options for Manatee schools, wasn’t aware that the Life Program had turned away students. She didn’t want to speak about specific student cases without knowing all of the details.

Eldridge advises parents to work closely with the school district to find the right fit for their students.

“I would also encourage them to stay in close contact with staff at the school,” Eldridge added.

Bradenton resident Rodney Jones has mentored students at the school. He has advised them to move on. “The bottom line is, it’s unfortunate,” Jones said about the school’s closing. I’m telling the students that they have to adapt. Those that adapt will survive and move on.”

Not all details have been finalized regarding Richard Milburn. The Mana- tee County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People issued a public records request to the corporate office of Richard Milburn Academy -- which has five schools in Florida and eight schools in Texas.

The NAACP asked for data including any information sent to the state’s Department of Education, graduation rates, racial demographics and the number of teachers teaching out of field.

“They didn’t seem to cooperate,” said Edward Bailey, president of the Manatee County Branch of the NAACP. Bailey received a notice saying the request would cost the NAACP a “couple thousand dollars.”

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