New Hope student Jamel Bodden spoke to the board. Students and faculty and family attended the York City School Board meeting, Wednesday, March 19,  2014.
New Hope student Jamel Bodden spoke to the board. Students and faculty and family attended the York City School Board meeting, Wednesday, March 19, 2014. Bil Bowden photos (Bil Bowden)

Nearly 60 parents and students of New Hope Academy Charter School have signed on as plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit alleging their constitutional rights were violated by the York City School District.

That's a big increase in plaintiffs compared to a similar complaint filed in November and dismissed by a judge in February.

Eight people filed the original lawsuit, which alleged a conspiracy among district officials to deny a renewal of New Hope's charter in 2012 despite years of approving the school's expansion plans.

They sought to convince the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania the school district's actions violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the 14th Amendment and the Pennsylvania Constitution.

In his order dated Feb. 27, Judge John E. Jones III gave the plaintiffs 30 days to amend their complaint and re-file. Of six allegations in the original complaint, Jones dismissed three "without prejudice," which meant the plaintiffs could re-file those arguments.

Latest version: The lawsuit's latest version includes comparisons of New Hope's denial to the district's Feb. 19 approval of a five-year renewal for Helen Thackston Charter School.

At the time, district and Helen Thackston officials said they'd been meeting for months to negotiate the terms of a new charter.

Their agreement holds Helen Thackston to the same achievement standards and long-term goals the district has set for itself.


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Helen Thackston officials also agreed to help the district repay a $5 million "financial recovery transition" loan, which the district is repaying at a rate of about $500,000 per year. The charter school's annual contribution would depend on its enrollment numbers, according to the agreement.

The opportunity to negotiate with the district was never offered to New Hope, said Sean Summers, an attorney representing the New Hope plaintiffs.

Summers called it a "slap in the face" that "Thackston was given sort of the kid-glove treatment and New Hope was bashed over the head."

Anyone who thinks most New Hope students will return to the district if the charter school closes "is just living in a different universe," Summers said.

Parents will consider other charter and cyber schools, he said.

"The overwhelming majority, they will not end up at York City schools," Summers said.

— Reach Erin James at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.