During its inaugural year, a Catasauqua charter school offered TV shows, unruliness and a discipline-free environment, but little in the way of the health-care-related education it promised, former employees contend in an anonymous letter to Catasauqua school officials.
The Sept. 15 letter, signed "Former Employees of the Medical Academy Charter High School," paints a confused picture of the place Catasauqua Area School District threatened to shut down eight months ago amid concerns it was not living up to its promise to provide a medical-related curriculum.
The letter, addressed to the Catasauqua Area School Board and Superintendent Robert Spengler, said teachers — most of whom had little health-care-related training — received little guidance about how to incorporate medicine into their lessons in the last school year.
"The staff received no professional development to create courses infused with medicine," said the letter, obtained by The Morning Call through a Right to Know request to the school district.
Dr. Craig Haytmanek, Medical Academy's co-founder, dismissed the letter as "the ramblings of a disgruntled employee."
He and Medical Academy Principal Joanna Hughes declined to address all the letter's claims because the writers did not identify themselves.
"If this individual comes forward, I would be more than willing to go through the letter line by line and address each point," Haytmanek said.
The author should be "prepared to discuss the reasons" about "why he or she was relieved of employment," he added.
He and Hughes said the school has incorporated health-care initiatives into every class and that its curriculum is improving. It has its share of discipline problems like every public high school but administers severe consequences for misbehavior, they said.
"This school is orderly," Hughes said.
It's not clear if the Catasauqua board intends to act on the letter. Board President Penny Hahn did not return a call for comment.
Spengler said Tuesday the letter should prompt an investigation.
"Communication of this caliber or level will require the school district to investigate all aspects of the Medical Academy Charter School," he said then.
Two days later, he said the board is hamstrung to pursue the matter since it's not clear who is making the claims.
"To date, we have not been able to find any individuals to substantiate the allegations and speak on the record," Spengler said. "MACS leadership may respond to the issue if they deem appropriate at one of our upcoming board meetings."
Spengler said about 10 parents also have contacted him and complained about Medical Academy Charter School's sparse medical curriculum, discipline problems and minimal academic rigor.
He said the district will monitor the charter as required and will provide a mid-year status report to the School Board.
The Catasauqua Area School Board approved Medical Academy's charter in 2012 and the school opened to ninth- and 10th-graders last fall in a building on Howerton Road. In January, about 150 students were enrolled. This school year, Medical Academy added 11th grade and currently has 224 students enrolled, Haytmanek said.
Most of those attending are from Allentown, and the Allentown School District — which is required to turn over to charters the state aid it receives for those students — was paying nearly $1 million to Medical Academy last year.
In January, a Morning Call investigation found that the school hadn't implemented the health-care curriculum it had promised and that it had no partnerships with medical facilities as organizers suggested in the school's charter application. In March, the school survived a threat to its charter when the Catasauqua School Board said it was satisfied with the way Medical Academy had addressed concerns about its curriculum.