Dozens of people, most of them in matching red T-shirts, crowded into the York City School District's administration building Monday evening.
They were there to lend support to Cynthia Dotson, a longtime educator and York City resident who's trying for a third time to convince the district's school board that she can open and operate a successful charter school. Many of her supporters were former students of the Crispus Attucks YouthBuild Charter School, where Dotson spent 10 years as the principal.
Not all of them stayed for the duration of the nearly four-hour hearing.
But those who did left with no shortage of information to digest afterward.
The hearing began with a presentation from Dotson and colleagues, who want to open a K-8 school called the Championship Academy of Distinction that would emphasize health and fitness in its curriculum. The school's first year would serves grades K-3 and add grades gradually over five years.
The hearing ended with a recommendation from district administrators that the school board deny Dotson's application for a charter.
Site not determined: A physical space for the school, once proposed for the York YWCA, is not yet determined. And that fact proved a contentious issue at Monday's hearing.
The YWCA is no longer an option, but Dotson said she has lease options for facilities at 610 W. Philadelphia St. and 601 Madison Ave.
However, Dotson said, her first choice would be to lease space in one of the district's vacant buildings. She pitched that idea as a potential revenue generator worth $2 million annually for the district.
District administrators, however, took issue with Dotson's application, which was submitted in November. In that document, she proposes the YWCA as the academy's facility.
Assistant Superintendent Tamara Willis alleged that Dotson has known for several months that the YWCA was no longer an option but failed to disclose that fact to the district until Monday's hearing.
Likewise, Willis said, the application failed to identify specific assessment measures, achievement goals and educational programs. Willis said the district's attempts to verify many of the pre-enrollment forms from interested parents in Dotson's application were unsuccessful. She alleged that some of those forms and letters of support from community members appeared to be fraudulent.
Dotson responded by saying she did not have a final answer from the YWCA when she submitted the application in November. Management at the nonprofit recently changed, she said.
No supplements accepted: The district's attorney, Allison Peterson, repeatedly denied Dotson's attempts to submit documents supporting her pursuit of alternate locations.
"We're not going to be accepting supplemental materials at this late date," Peterson said.
Dotson also said many supporters were confused by phone calls from the district seeking confirmation of their support. None of the documents were forged, she said.
"I am concerned that no matter how many times I come before this board, you're going to find a reason to shut it down," Dotson said.
York City's school board denied Dotson's application for a Championship Academy charter in 2012, and then again in 2013.
If granted a charter, Dotson said, she will not fight the district for renewal in five years if she does not meet achievement goals.
More than 15 people spoke Monday in support of Dotson's proposal.
"I just pray that you do give Ms. Dotson a chance. Just give her a chance," Waleska Vega, a city parent, said.
The board will vote on whether to grant the academy a charter at its Wednesday, Feb. 19 meeting.
— Reach Erin James at firstname.lastname@example.org.