Charter school may face year delay

Certificate of occupancy needed by tomorrow for Tuesday opening

Chesapeake Science Point still is renovating

August 31, 2005|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

A charter school that has struggled to find a facility to fit evolving county standards may not open until the fall of 2006, despite promises by the county school system that it would only have to wait a semester.

Chesapeake Science Point, a math, science and technology charter, was racing to complete renovations on a Hanover building to start classes for about 120 sixth- and seventh-graders Tuesday.

But the school's organizers need a certificate of occupancy from the county zoning office, according to an Aug. 26 letter sent to the school and signed by County Executive Janet S. Owens, schools Superintendent Eric J. Smith and Board of Education President Konrad M. Wayson.

If it does not receive its certificate by tomorrow, Chesapeake Science Point "will not be permitted to open its doors for students," the letter said. Families of enrolled pupils also received a certified letter, indicating that the children should enroll in their home school Friday if a permit is not issued.

"While we recognize the inconvenience and disappointment this may cause your family, we know you share our belief that students must attend school in a safe and secure environment," the letter said.

At a school board meeting this month, Jose M. Torres, superintendent of student services, said charter schools could open at the quarter break in November if unable to open by Tuesday.

However, language in the charter agreement signed by the school and school board members indicates that it could not open if there is no certificate of occupancy by Sept. 1, said Kathy Lane, director of alternative education for the county schools.

She said sending the pupils to county public schools until November would disrupt education because the programs are different. It also would create staffing problems because teachers at charters are employees of the school system.

"We've been trying to make it happen, but as we explored the issue further we recognized the pitfalls" of allowing a November opening, Lane said.

Said Wayson: "We're trying to make it work for everybody, but we're trying to make sure we have the least impact on these kids."

Chesapeake Science Point had faced a setback last month when County Council members passed emergency legislation restricting charter schools to parcels 3 acres or larger in most residentially zoned areas.

The school applied for special permission and temporary use permits to remain in a Glen Burnie building it had leased, but county officials later said that the school building would not meet code.

Still, Chesapeake officials were able to locate a site in Hanover that once was used for computer training.

"All the parents are very upset," said school director Jon Omural. "They are not upset with me. They are upset with the Board of Education."

Vicki Lines of Pasadena, whose 11-year-old son is enrolled at Chesapeake, said: "[The school] is bending over backwards to try to meet all of their rules."

Charter schools receive public funding but have some freedom to determine their curriculum, schedule and other characteristics. County school board members approved Chesapeake's application in May; soon after, it accepted its second, for KIPP Harbor Academy, a middle school that seeks to prepare underserved children for college.

That school also faced some trouble securing a facility and finally settled in classrooms at Sojourner-Douglass College's satellite campus in Edgewater.

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