DCPS backs out of funding Ivymount at the Stevens School

Media Credit: Sam Hardgrove | Assistant Photo Editor

Commissioner Florence Harmon said she was frustrated with DCPS' decision to back out of funding the Ivymount program at the Stevens School.

D.C. Public Schools is pulling out of its funding commitment for the new Ivymount special education school, set to be located at the site of the former Thaddeus Stevens School on 21st Street.

Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood commissioners learned the news at their meeting Wednesday evening after ANC Chairman Patrick Kennedy received a letter less than an hour before the meeting got underway. The letter that Kennedy read aloud at the meeting stated that DCPS chose not to move forward with their agreement and mentioned previous work between DCPS and Ivymount.

“Since 2012 DCPS has launched successful collaborative efforts with Ivymount students and staff and has developed additional programs from students with autism spectrum disorder and professional development for DCPS staff,” the letter to Kennedy from Jennifer Niles, deputy mayor of education, stated.

Ivymount, a private school company that operates two schools and outreach programs for children with learning and intellectual disabilities including autism, is planning to open a third school an the site of the former Stevens School, which closed in 2008.

ANC commissioners slammed DCPS’ decision saying the current state of special needs education in the District is failing children.

Commissioner Eve Zhurbinskiy said it was unclear why DCPS decided not to provide funding for the project. Adminstrators had previously committed to give about $2.5 million to the project, $50,000 for each of the 50 students planning to enroll there, she said.

Chancellor Antwan Wilson, who came to DCPS in February, switched around special education programs as the superintendent of schools in Oakland, Calif. to combine children in regular classrooms, upsetting some parents, the Washington Post reported.

“One month into his role as chancellor, he decided to scrap the Ivymount deal, and everyone on the ANC is extremely angry,” she said in an email.

Kennedy said DCPS’ withdrawal of funding is a setback for the community, especially children who need special education.

“I think this city is failing students with special needs, and it will continue to fail students with special needs as long as we continue the practices,” he said at the meeting. “I think I am just fatigued at the lack of reliability for D.C.’s part in negotiating with us in this process.”

Ivymount still has a $20 million contract with Akridge, a property office commercial real estate company, which will fund some of the restoration of the Stevens School.

Stevens School had a 140-year-long history in the District, originally built with contributions from parents who were freed slaves and wanted to send their children to a quality school, Kennedy said.

The school closed in 2008 but the D.C. Council and Historic Preservation Review Board approved renovations to bring the Ivymount School into the space in 2018.

Under the renovation plans, Akridge would furnish the property to open the school and the adjacent retail and office space that is planned for the site.

The ANC voted unanimously to accept Akridge’s plans for the school site under the Historic Preservation Review Board.

Commissioner William Smith said he did not think anything justified dissolving the program.

“I sat in a meeting and listened to deputy mayor’s reason for terminating this program,” Smith said. “First I listened to the extensive history and then the reason was, ‘I think what we could do with the money elsewhere.”

Commissioner Florence Harmon said while she was upset about DCPS’ decision, she did think the agency legally could back out of funding the program.

“I have never seen anything like this in my entire life,” Harmon said.

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