Two months into the school year, Walter Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter has shuttered its high school — displacing the 286 students who attended the Tacony campus in what the school's founder called a "human tragedy."
The scene on Harbison Avenue was the latest development in the charter's years-long scuffle with the Philadelphia School District regarding enrollment caps. Students arrived for classes Monday morning only to be told to head home.
Despite the fact that Palmer signed a charter in 2005 limiting enrollment to 675 children, when the academic year started, Palmer served about 1,275 K-12 students at campuses in Northern Liberties and Tacony.
For years, when Palmer enrolled students in excess of that number, the District withheld payment, but the state Department of Education instead funneled that money directly to the charter.
The District filed a lawsuit against Palmer charter, and in May, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the District's rationale.
Based on the court's decision, the state Department of Education has discontinued payment to Palmer for students above the 675-student cap.
Palmer disputes the District's and state's interpretation of the ruling. In late September, the school admitted that it didn't have sufficient funds to operate through the rest of the year.
Last week, Palmer held a lottery to cut 250 students out of its elementary school. Between this and shuttering the high school, Walter Palmer says his schools have made significant efforts to keep enrollment within the agreed-to cap.
In a phone interview Monday, Palmer compared the downsizing of his elementary school to a scene on a "slave ship" where "names were picked out of a hat."
"It was very painful," he said, painting the action in brutal terms, where "this one lives; this one dies."
Palmer said his team has been helping the parents of displaced children to find "quality school-choice options" for their children, including private, parochial, and other charter schools.
As with all residents of Philadelphia, displaced children can register with their neighborhood District-run school at any time during the year.