Charter schools relieved, won’t have to submit forms about minorities

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Indian River County charter schools will not have to do more reporting on minority students and faculty than they already do, the School Board has decided.

Leaders from the county’s various charter schools spoke out against a proposed changed to their respective contracts that would have forced them to further report the number of minority students attending their schools.

At issue was a template School District officials crafted, with input from the local chapter of the NAACP, to hold charter schools accountable to the federal desegregation order. That order, requires all public schools to have a black population between 9 and 27 percent. It also requires a certain percentage of black employees and administrators.

Charter school leaders took issue with the template for various reasons.

Imagine Schools at South Vero’s principal, Jonathan Sternberg, raised the issue of what he called a “unilateral amendment” to the charters’ contracts. Changes are supposed to occur as the contracts come up for renewal.

He said that even without the district imposed forms, his school would continue to work toward meeting the desegregation order.

Indian River Charter High School board president and chair Gene Wadell asked the School Board to find one black student who had been denied enrollment at his school. He reminded them that charters are schools of choice and the leadership cannot force students to attend.

Wadell said that he felt the charter schools were being singled out because they had been chosen – not the traditional schools.

“I believe staff has a paranoia of charter schools,” Waddell said.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Harry LaCava reminded the board that it was at the board’s direction that the district’s staff come up with a way to ensure charter schools were doing all they could to attract minority students.

“This is not picking on charters,” School Board member Claudia Jimenez said of the proposed template, adding that it’s about holding the schools accountable.

She added that if the charters are truly doing what they can, then “you have nothing to fear.”

Charter leaders disagreed, pointing out that part of the language in the proposed forms they would have had to sign would have opened the door for the district to discontinue their contracts.

School Board member Karen Disney-Brombach agreed with the charters’ assessment, calling the document a “bear trap.”

School Board Chair Matt McCain said that the district knows that the charters can’t force students to choose their schools and that the document would be a way to report data.

He said that he sees the form as being something helpful for the charters.

“People out there are distrustful of charters,” McCain said, explaining that he hears concerns in the public all the time that charters – at best – are elitist and – at worst – are racist.

He said the document would help make public the information the schools already have and what the schools are doing to recruit students.

“This was a way to bridge the gap,” McCain said.

He and Jimenez were on the losing end of approving the templates for the charters.

Johnny Thornton, the Education Committee chair for the NAACP, said that the organization wants to ensure that all the county’s schools comply with the federal desegregation order.

“We can’t force anyone to do anything,” he said.

It was not the organization’s intent to single out any one particular group, he said, adding that the NAACP was not “working against” the charters.

Thornton said the NAACP would be willing to go back to the table with the district and charters to continue to work on a plan.

“We don’t want to be adversaries,” he said.

North County Charter Elementary School Board President Ken Miller said that he was happy about the school board’s vote to not approve the document.

“We’re tickled to death,” he said, explaining that the form could have been used against the charters if they failed to achieve the targeted percentage of black students.

“They did the right thing,” Waddell said after the meeting.

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