The expansion of Torchlight Academy Schools in Raleigh, North Carolina, is in trouble. Despite their mishandling and misreporting of students in special education, their financial irregularities and missing records, they are still in business. The state charter board has closed two of their charters, but others are still operating, and Torchlight hopes to add more charters. One–the Three Rivers Academy–was closed in January after numerous deficiencies were identified. According to NC Policy Watch:

Don McQueen, operator of Three Rivers Academy, allegedly padded enrollment numbers, paid families so students would attend class, and took other extreme measures to ensure state per-pupil funds kept flowing to the troubled charter school in Bertie County.

The fate of another charter school run by the same management company will be decided at a meeting tonight of the state charter school board.

Station WRAL reports:

A state advisory board will discuss Monday the fate of a 600-student Raleigh charter school that is under fire for for its handling of special education programming.

Monday’s meeting will be the latest in a string of tense meetings with state charter school officials for Donnie McQueen, executive director of Torchlight Academy Schools. In less than a year, the state has revoked charters for two of his schools because of violations.

The meeting will take place just days after records show the state was still waiting for Torchlight Academy to produce financial and contractual records — including records that would be legally public for traditional public schools but that are not legally public for public charter schools…

The school is on the highest level of state noncompliance status, following state findings that the school had been “grossly negligent” in its oversight of the exceptional children program, also known as special education. The state is now overseeing, but not controlling, school finances.

The State Board of Education asked the Charter School Advisory Board to review:

  • Potential misuse of federal and state funds, including grant funds.
  • Governance concerns, including a lack of oversight.
  • Potential conflicts of interest by its principal and executive director — Cynthia and Donnie McQueen. Specifically, whether their actions on behalf of or in lieu of board of directors or management organization have benefited them personally…

The school has posted average performance grades and academic growth in recent years.

Last year, the state found the school didn’t properly implement the program as required by the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, altered and falsified student records, falsely reported training compliance, did not provide adequate access to student and finance records, and had unqualified staff.

The school protested being moved to the highest level of noncompliance, citing new training for staff and other changes the school was making to improve.

Officials complained of the voluminous records requested by the state and argued it was being treated differently than others schools…

Charter schools are public schools, but they are not subject to the same public disclosure laws as traditional public school districts. For example, charter schools don’t have to make employees’ salaries public. They also don’t need to disclose contracts, such as a lease contract.

The records the state sought related to financial documents included any records between the school or Torchlight Academy Schools and three organizations owned by other school officials.

Torchlight Academies currently manages two charters and hopes to manage another five.