State board won't allow proposed charter school for American Indians to open in 2020

Posted December 5, 2019 3:38 p.m. EST

— The State Board of Education voted Thursday to not allow a proposed Robeson County charter school geared toward American Indians to open in 2020.

Last month, the Charter Schools Advisory Board voted the same way, saying Old Main STREAM Academy's proposed curriculum focusing on indigenous students was “divisive instead of bringing unity.” Despite CSAB members' concerns about the school, they praised the group's passion and encouraged them to submit another application next year with a focus on inclusiveness.

Old Main STREAM Academy was hoping to get approval for an accelerated opening, but state board member Amy White said the school's application "just simply did not meet the threshold and high standards that should be in place when an accelerated application comes before us."

State board member James Ford defended the school's proposed curriculum, saying the board should welcome a school that wants to present a historical portrayal centered on the lives and experiences of black and indigenous people.

"To me, that’s not inherently threatening. Except that it does disrupt some of our mythologies about American history," Ford said. "I would encourage that community, the indigenous community and other folks who want to teach from a culturally relevant perspective to not compromise on that. You can still hold high standards of rigor and academic achievement and center the lives of color at the same time. I think there’s nothing wrong. In fact, that’s inherently American."

Old Main STREAM Academy was initially approved by the state's Charter School Advisory Board in a 4-3 vote earlier this year, but the State Board of Education raised questions about the close vote and asked the CSAB to reconsider the application.

During a meeting last month, some CSAB members said they had a change of heart after learning more about the school's proposed "red pedagogy" and focus on indigenous students.

"What are you going to do if a white child comes or black child or Hispanic child comes? I know your heart would be to grow them too, but that’s not what your application says," CSAB member Lindalyn Kakadelis said.

Brenda Deese, a board member for the proposed school, said they would accept all students at the school.

In order to open a new charter school, the state's Office of Charter Schools reviews the applications for completeness before forwarding them to the CSAB. The CSAB then reviews the applications and interviews the proposed school leaders before making recommendations to the State Board of Education about which schools should open.

Charter schools, which are publicly funded and privately run schools that do not charge tuition, have been booming in North Carolina with more than 100,000 students enrolled at 196 schools across the state. Twelve charters opened this year, and 10 more are expected next year – putting the state's count at 206 charter schools.

Charter schools were created in North Carolina two decades ago, and their enrollment has increased more than 200 percent in the past 10 years.

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