Natalia Alamdari - Delaware News Journal
After members of the Odyssey Charter School’s board of directors made border wall jokes during a January meeting, the school has been placed back on formal review by the Delaware Department of Education.
The department received complaints about board governance, including the comments made that seemed to be directed at the racial makeup of Academia Antonia Alonso Charter School.
Now, the state will investigate whether the school has violated the terms of its charter, as well as the probationary conditions it was placed under after being under review last year.
Secretary of Education Susan Bunting also condemned the discriminatory comments made by board members.
Odyssey and Academia Antonia Alonso neighbor each other at Barley Mill Plaza on Lancaster Pike, near Greenville. When discussing potential parking restrictions, Odyssey board members made jokes in reference to President
Donald Trump’s campaign to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
"The other thing I proposed somewhat in jest to [Odyssey administrators] Riccardo [Stoeckicht] and Evan [Winokur] was that we just put a fence right there," one board member said.
"And they're going to pay for it," added someone else before muttering, "I'm just joking."
Laughter from multiple men and women ensued as another person said, "Build the wall." A board member trying to steer the conversation back on track then said, "The jokes write themselves but," before trailing off.
Antonia Alonso is the first dual-language elementary school in Delaware, focused on teaching bilingual and multicultural children. Its student body is mostly Hispanic.
In a statement sent to Delaware Online/The News Journal on Thursday, Odyssey board President Josiah Wolcott apologized for the comments and said he will be calling for the resignation of the board member responsible. He wouldn't say who the board member is until he gets in touch with them.
This is a "distressing process" for the school, Wolcott said in a written statement to Delaware Online/The News Journal on Friday. The school deeply regrets the comments that led to this, he said. Wolcott has reached out to leadership at Academia Antonia Alonso as well.
"This was a painful lesson and I will hold myself and the entire OCS board to a higher standard," Wolcott said.
Odyssey was last placed under Formal Review in May, after repeated complaints of potential conflicts of interest, misappropriated funds and equal rights violations. The accusations primarily centered around the influence the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association has had on the school.
The Greek-American organization has been involved with Odyssey since the school’s founding. The school’s charter, renewed by the Department of Education in 2014, required that five of the nine board members be appointed by AHEPA.
But that majority was called into question by the formal review, and whether those five members voting on AHEPA-related issues created a conflict of interest.
Odyssey was placed on probation in July as a result of the investigation. The school must make governance changes and meet certain conditions by June 30 to maintain its charter.
The State Board of Education renewed Odyssey’s charter in December but still required that the school meet its probation requirements.
The second push into reviewing the school’s governance will investigate charter violations, and whether the school has adjusted its board to no longer be dominated by AHEPA members. The investigation will also determine whether the board has created a more transparent and fair nominating process for future members.
Brandon Holveck contributed to this report.
Natalia Alamdari covers education for The News Journal. You can reach her at (302) 324-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.