Education

On brink of closure, Durham charter school has 60 days to file one more appeal

Posted April 12

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— As the July 1 deadline to close their high school approaches, Kestrel Heights' leaders have one more chance to keep the charter school open.

The school has 60 days to challenge the State Board of Education's decision last week to close the high school as punishment for giving unearned diplomas to 40 percent of its graduates in the past eight years.

The appeal, if the school chooses to file one, would be heard by the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings, which resolves contested cases involving citizens and state agencies, among other things.

It's unclear if the Kestrel Heights Board of Directors will continue its months-long fight to keep the school open.

"At this time, the board has not decided," said Kestrel Heights Executive Director Mark Tracy. "If they do, I am sure there will be a press release."

For months, Kestrel Heights supporters have watched state education leaders debate whether their high school should be allowed to stay open. Again and again, the answer has been no.

State Board of Education members took a final vote last week after the school appealed their first vote in March. Board members said they struggled with the decision but ultimately decided closing the school was necessary after it was revealed that Kestrel gave unearned diplomas to 160 of its 399 graduates since 2008.

The board voted to allow the the K-8 portion of the school to continue running but said it must have stricter oversight and retain an independent professional auditor. Kestrel Heights' high school, which must close by July 1, can apply to reopen in three years.

The school's new principal first discovered the diploma problem last summer. School leaders investigated further in December and found that students had received diplomas without earning all of the proper credits.

The problems stemmed from "systematic errors" by a counselor and two principals, according to school officials, who said the staffers are no longer employed. The Durham County District Attorney’s Office is working to determine whether a criminal investigation is warranted.

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