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School Board sets conditions for Imagine Schools’ expansion

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Imagine Schools at South Vero might be able to expand its school to include 7th and 8th grades, if the Indian River County School Board doesn’t change its mind.

After a 2 ½-hour private meeting Tuesday afternoon, the school board told 40 or so parents, teachers and students of Imagine Schools that if the charter can agree to a few conditions, the board would be “more inclined” not to appeal the expansion’s approval.

Last week, the Florida Board of Education overruled the school board’s decision to deny the charter school’s expansion. The school board has 30 days to decide whether or not to appeal the ruling in court.

“It’s a relief,” Imagine Schools Principal Joe Mills said after the board’s announcement. The next step, he said, is to take the conditions back to his school board and consult with the school’s attorney to determine if the conditions are acceptable.

The Indian River County School Board’s proposed conditions would require Imagine Schools to stagger the expansion – 7th grade this fall, 8th grade the following fall.

The charter would also have to restrict enrollment in the upper grades to only those already enrolled at the school.

While Imagine Schools parents appeared relieved by the board’s announcement, some questioned the restriction of the upper grades’ enrollment.

“We had a huge exodus,” said Kimberly Keithahn, referring to a large number of sixth graders who left the school because they did not know if they would be able to go to seventh grade in the fall.

She and others asked the school board to consider taking those students into account when determining how large the seventh grade can be.

Board member Carol Johnson raised the issue of setting a number for enrollment rather than restricting the seventh grade to only those students who are currently sixth graders, noting that the board and the charter could work out a basic agreement and then negotiate that number.

As for phasing the school’s expansion, Mills said the charter had planned to do that, rather than opening in the fall with two new grade levels.

“That was the way we preferred,” he said.

Imagine Schools at South Vero currently has approximately 570 students enrolled in grades kindergarten through sixth. About 60 students are in the sixth grade.

Mills said he would have liked to open the seventh grade with about 100 students – taking into account the students who had left due to the school expansion’s uncertainty.

The next step for the school board is to hold a second private meeting – called an “executive session” – once the school district receives the written order from the Florida Board of Education regarding its decision.

Board Attorney Usher “Larry” Brown told the audience that he expects that letter sometime next week. The board will have 30 days from that date to decide whether or not to appeal the decision.

If the board were to appeal, he said it would be July before the appeal was decided, which would make it “highly unlikely” the seventh grade could open in the fall – provided the school board’s appeal was overturned.

If the board chooses not to appeal, the school district and Imagine Schools at South Vero would then negotiate a contract for the upper grades.

Brown said that could happen in 60 days from the date the board votes to approve the expansion.

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