Columbus NAACP opposes controversial alternative education plan

Tonza Thomas is president of the Columbus NAACP.
Tonza Thomas is president of the Columbus NAACP.

The Columbus branch of the NAACP announced Tuesday its opposition to the Muscogee County School District administration’s controversial plan to hire a private, for-profit company for $6.4 million annually to run alternative education programs.

The announcement came several hours before the first of two public hearings this week to hear questions and opinions from residents concerning Camelot Education, which is based in Austin, Texas, and runs 43 alternative schools in six states. MCSD would be the first district in Georgia to hire Camelot of the board approves superintendent David Lewis’ recommendation during a called meeting April 10.

“Research has shown that Camelot has failed in Florida, Philadelphia and in its home state of Texas,” the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s local chapter asserted in its news release. “Our community has competent educators that assist our children with challenges daily, yet they were not consulted before a decision was made to introduce an out-of-state, for profit, security-corporation to our school district. The NAACP believes that a local perspective from competent retired and current Muscogee County educators would be a better consortium.”

The Ledger-Enquirer asked Columbus NAACP president Tonza Thomas to cite the “research” the news release mentions. She replied with a link to the March 8 story titled “That Place Was Like a Prison” on the website, which the Ledger-Enquirer already has reported. The story is about allegations of Camelot employees abusing students with overly aggressive discipline in five cities: Reading, Pa.; Lancaster, Pa.; Philadelphia; New Orleans; and Pensacola, Fla.

Asked what specifically motivated the Columbus NAACP to declare that Camelot “has failed,” Thomas replied, “Abuse is failure.”

In its 17-page response to Slate’s questions, Camelot wrote, “With the exception of an isolated incident in Reading, PA in which we immediately investigated and terminated multiple employees, Camelot has had no founded child abuse cases or lawsuits involving our students over the last decade. Your narrative is formulated using fewer than 10 incidents from the almost 5,940,000 daily interactions over a period of 10 years.”

The Ledger-Enquirer forwarded the Columbus NAACP’s news release to Lewis and MCSD communications director Valerie Fuller and asked for their response, but the L-E hasn’t received one.

A follow-up to the allegations reported on was published March 29, in conjuction with Pro Publica, which reported officials in Philadelphia and Houston, in addition to Columbus, are “rethinking their relationship” with Camelot.

The Columbus NAACP news released equated this controversy with the one MCSD dealt with about “alternative lunches” being served to students whose school cafeteria accounts were overdue.

“Recently, this community donated $3,519 to feed the children of the Muscogee County School District that were served alternative lunches due to deficient lunch accounts and today, a $6 million offer for a failed educational alternative has been offered by the Muscogee County School District,” the news release says. “The same school board members that felt embarrassed for isolating students who could not eat a hot lunch should be just as embarrassed for selling students with challenges to a for profit company. The NAACP says not our children, not our educators and not in our community.”