LEAD Academy charter school to move forward despite AEA lawsuit
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A preliminary hearing was held Wednesday regarding a lawsuit filed by the Alabama Education Association against members of the Alabama Public Charter School Commission. The AEA and plaintiffs, who are employees of Montgomery Public Schools, are challenging the commission's vote to approve LEAD Academy as Montgomery's first public charter school.
The decision was made in a 5-1 vote in February.
In its suit, the AEA made a number of claims against the commission, including that it didn't have the required number of votes to approve the school, the school's plan does not meet state requirements for public charter schools, and that interim State Superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson is "friends" with those responsible for the school's approval.
In January the National Association of Charter School Authorizers recommended the commission deny Lead Academy's application due to deficiencies in the school's plan for education, school culture, finances and operations. The NACSA's summary recommended the commission obtain more information and review specific contracts if it chose approve the application.
AEA Executive Director Theron Stokes said the AEA was concerned the commission's 5-1 vote to approve the school did not meet state requirements. He said at least a majority of the 11-member commission including an MPS board member were necessary. However, Alabama's public charter school law states six members of the commission qualifies as a quorum and that a majority vote is required for business transactions. It also states an MPS board member only has to serve as the 11th member of the commission, on a rotating basis, in the case that there is an appeal.
Stokes said the organization believes Richardson decided to close four MPS schools as part of his intervention plan so that charter schools could open in them.
The hearing is scheduled for late April. In the meantime, LEAD Academy will be allowed to recruit employees for all staffing positions, advertise and accept applications from potential students. And it can move forward with working to secure a facility.
However, until a judge hands down a decision, the school will not be able to offer employee contracts or enroll students. School leaders are also not able to accept state funds or use any public buildings until a decision is reached, which includes any of the schools Dr. Richardson scheduled to close.
Charlotte Meadows, LEAD Academy board chair, said she is confident the school will continue making progress and open as a charter school in August in Montgomery.
The board of directors for LEAD Academy released this full statement:
"When we decided to work to open a charter school in Montgomery, we knew it would come with challenges. But we never expected to have an education organization decide to file a lawsuit that seeks to prevent us from being able to educate students.
What you are seeing is a desperate attempt from the Alabama Education Association (AEA) to thwart anything that appears to be a threat to their hold on power. We find this lawsuit to be an outright attack - not on us, but on the families in Montgomery who for far too long have not had access to an educational system that prepared their students for success.
But we will not give up. While others may focus their efforts to defend the failed status quo, we will continue to move forward to give families in Montgomery an option. We are thankful that the judge has allowed us to continue our work during this process, and we look forward to defending our charter at the hearing in April."
The hearing will be held on April 30th at 8:30 a.m.
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