Judge halts revocation of Moore school's charter

Posted June 8, 2010 1:04 p.m. EDT
Updated June 8, 2010 6:29 p.m. EDT

The Academy of Moore County opened in 1997 and serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

— A state judge on Tuesday ordered that a Moore County charter school be allowed to remain open until he can hold a full hearing on state education officials' attempt to revoke the school's charter.

The State Board of Education voted in March against renewing the charter for the Academy of Moore County, which is based in Aberdeen and serves 174 students from four counties in kindergarten through the eighth grade.

The school challenged the board's move in the Office of Administrative Hearings and in a lawsuit, and observers say the outcome of the cases could have an impact on the state's oversight of charter schools.

Charter schools are allowed to operate independently from local school districts, giving school administrators and teachers more flexibility with the curriculum. Still, the schools receive state funding and must meet state performance standards for student achievement.

State officials told Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison Jr. on Tuesday that the Academy of Moore County has a history of poor test scores, showing that it isn't serving students.

"The state's contention is that we have an obligation to protect these children, and they are not being protected in this environment," said Laura Crumpler, the attorney for the State Board of Education. "They are much better off going back to their home (public) schools rather than being in this school."

State Department of Public Instruction records show that the Academy of Moore County met state academic growth standards in the 2008-09 school year but failed to meet them in the previous four years.

The school also missed the majority of its Adequate Yearly Progress goals under the federal No Child Left Behind law in 2006-07 and 2007-08, according to DPI records. It met most AYP goals in the two years before that and met all three goals last year.

The school was founded in 1997, and organizers took out a $2.2 million loan to construct a new building, which the school moved into in August 2008.

Allyson Schoen, education director at the Academy of Moore County told Morrison that the school was working toward a corrective action plan to help its disadvantaged students, but the state didn't seem to listen.

Morrison issued a stay of the Board of Education's vote and scheduled a hearing on the school's challenge in August. A final ruling likely wouldn't come until the end of the year, which would give the school at least one more semester to improve.

"There is a voracious need for alternatives to the public school system," said the school's attorney, Kieran Shanahan, noting that the school has a waiting list of about 100 students. "Charter public schools fill that need."

Officials with other charter schools struggling with the state board's accountability said they are keeping close tabs on the case.

"We feel there is certainly a dearth of due process here," said Don McQueen, runs Torchlight Academy in Raleigh.