Former PA Cyber board president defends daughter's educational benefits

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The longtime president of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School board, who resigned last night against the backdrop of an internal investigation into his daughter's education, said today that he and his wife did nothing that any parent wouldn't, or couldn't, do by securing for their daughter a chunk of a college education.

"We're parents. We're asking what any parent is allowed to ask for. We're asking for our needs," said Dave Jaskiewicz, who joined the PA Cyber board around six years ago and was its president for most of that time. "Our daughter is a very bright child. She was taking high school courses in the fourth grade."

In order to continue to advance her education, he and his wife had to ask the school to go beyond normal course offerings, he said.

He added that last week the family decided that the daughter would leave PA Cyber for another cyber charter school, and with that decision he decided to resign from the board.

"If we were happy with the environment, we would still be at PA Cyber," he said, declining to elaborate.

Within the last month, the school hired the Philadelphia law firm Conrad O'Brien to investigate a complaint, referred to it by the state Department of Education.

The complaint, according to a summary written by Conrad O'Brien, accused Mr. Jaskiewicz' wife, Cynde Frederick, of directing that her daughter's transcript be altered, and of writing a Gifted Individual Education Plan for her that called for "enrollment in numerous college-level courses to be paid and funded by PA Cyber."

The attorneys' notice to employees of PA Cyber required that they preserve records related to school spending on the daughter's education through Johns Hopkins University, La Roche College, Robert Morris University, the University of Nevada at Reno, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Pittsburgh, among other educational institutions.

Mr. Jaskiewicz said that his wife handled discussions with the school over their daughter's Gifted Individual Education Plan.

"PA Cyber highly publicized its support for gifted students like my daughter," he said. "As a parent, we can request anything. Only the school can approve it and implement it. ... The school's the one who OK'ed all of this."

He added that the family asked for some educational benefits that the school refused to provide, though he did not remember what they were.

PA Cyber had a program under which it paid tuition for students who simultaneously enrolled in colleges from 2005 through 2008. Then the Department of Education ended dual enrollment funding for cyber charter schools.

From 2008 on, the National Network for Digital Schools, which manages PA Cyber, launched an Advanced Placement Alternatives Program, according to PA Cyber spokeswoman Christina Zarek. She wrote in response to questions that the program pays colleges as much as $600 per class in tuition when PA Cyber students take college courses. "Hundreds of students benefited from the program," she wrote, adding that it continues.

Mr. Jaskiewicz said he did not know whether PA Cyber or NNDS paid his daughter's college tuition, nor under what program it was paid.

He said he first heard that there were complaints about his daughter's education in July. He said that in a board executive session, someone who he would not name threatened to "go after" his family.

"They had to look into the allegation. Sure. That makes sense," Mr. Jaskiewicz said. He said the school's retention of a Philadelphia-area law firm to investigate the complaint was overkill.

"We're kind of thinking it's to distract from other issues," he said.

The school's founder, Nick Trombetta, who left the post of CEO in June of 2012, was indicted in August. He has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts related to alleged diversion of nearly $1 million in school money for personal uses through a series of management companies.

Mr. Jaskiewicz said that presiding over the board during a federal investigation was tough.

"Who wants to be involved in something like that on a volunteer basis?" Mr. Jaskiewicz asked. "I've lost weight. I don't sleep. ??? I'm trying to do the right thing. I'm trying to see this through and look out for the students, the families and the state.

"I wish the school well. Good luck to them. It's time to move on."

A Department of Education spokesman late Thursday said he could not comment on, confirm or deny any complaint or investigation.

education - breaking

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord First Published October 11, 2013 2:15 PM


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