The fight to save New Hope Academy goes on.
A state-level decision Thursday means the York City charter school will not have to close by Jan. 15, as New Hope had been previously ordered to do. Instead, the school can stay open until the end of its academic year.
Pennsylvania's charter school appeals board voted unanimously Oct. 15 to close New Hope and later issued a 52-page report explaining that decision. The document is a castigation of charter violations, academic failures and unethical financial practices at New Hope first alleged by the York City School District and now upheld by the state.
The appeals board altered its original order Thursday with a 4-2 vote to grant New Hope's request for a stay. That means the order to close is delayed, not reversed.
While the school's attorneys craft an appeal to Commonwealth Court - which could vacate the appeals board's ruling entirely - New Hope's 800 students and 100 employees know the school won't close before June.
"I'm really happy for the kids, for the teachers," said Don Trost, a New Hope principal who attended the appeals board meeting in Harrisburg. "It's a huge weight lifted."
Only one of the board's six members, Carolyn Dumaresq, attended the meeting in person. The rest participated by phone.
Dumaresq made a motion to grant New Hope's stay. But, she noted, additional relief would have to come from the court - not the appeals board.
Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said he believes the board was compelled to grant the stay by New Hope's argument that the mid-year closure was unfair to the school's seniors.
Since the state's Oct. 15 decision, officials and parents have raised concerns about the impact of the closure on college scholarships and class rankings in addition to the emotional toll of graduating from another school.
"I would say that was probably the most compelling thing," Eller said.
Kim Shaw, who attended the meeting, is the mother of a New Hope senior. Shaw said she was worried her daughter would lose her spring internship at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center if the charter school closed.
Shaw said she saw students crying this morning, upset about the possible outcome of Thursday's meeting.
"These kids are a family," she said.
Also in attendance at Thursday's meeting were several district representatives, including Superintendent Eric Holmes, school board President Margie Orr and Chief Recovery Officer David Meckley.
The district is in the midst of implementing a financial-recovery plan, the success of which is directly tied to increased student enrollment driven largely by the return of charter students.
"We accept the decision of the charter appeals board and look forward to the eventual return of students from the New Hope Academy in the fall of 2014," Holmes said.
Almost immediately after the Oct. 15 decision, district leaders were vocal about a transition plan to accommodate the anticipated influx of students from New Hope. The plan included reopening the shuttered Hannah Penn middle school, hiring new staff and offering a performing-arts program like the one at New Hope.
Much of that transition plan will be postponed until next fall, Holmes said.
"We have every intention of opening Hannah Penn as a K-8 school, so the preparation that we have put into the building will be utilized in the fall," he said.
Asked if the board's latest decision might impact the district's finances, Holmes said it would not.
"Prior to this decision being made, we had a budget for this school year, and we will continue to work with that budget," he said.
Orr declined to comment immediately after the vote.
Debra Stock, a member of New Hope's school board, issued a statement thanking the state board "for allowing New Hope Academy students to complete the academic year without disruption."
"Our students and their parents rallied around their school to send the message that New Hope Academy is their school and they won't leave without a fight. Their message was heard today," Stock wrote. "Our fight is not over. We will continue to push for educational choice for York City families and will appeal to the Commonwealth Court to remain open to provide school choice for years to come."
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Click here to view the board's decision in full.