The proposed Helen Thackston Charter High School is still a possibility after a state decision on Tuesday in favor of Thackston.

The state charter appeals board unanimously voted against York City School District's motion to dismiss Thackston's appeal. Thackston, a 5th-9th grade charter school in its fourth year, applied last fall to expand to grades 10-12, but that was denied by York City School Board.

Thackston is seeking to overturn that decision.

York City attorney Allison Peterson unsuccessfully argued Thackston had failed to follow proper procedure in submitting its application.

The application will now be heard by the appeals board, possibly at its October meeting, to determine if Helen Thackston High School should be approved.

Amendment status: Peterson told the appeals board that in November 2010, Thackston filed a charter amendment request to add the high school grades. The district, Peterson said, informed Thackston they instead needed to file an entirely new charter application because the high school would be a separate school.

When Thackston applied again in November 2011, the board realized the application was an amendment request and not a new application as requested, Peterson said. The same curriculum, staff and other features were duplicated, she said.

The difference between an amendment and a new charter is critical, Peterson argued, because the appeals board has no jurisdiction over charter amendments.

But the appeals board ruled in favor of Thackston. Ronald Tomalis, secretary of education and board chairman, said there's no law against having "the same cast of characters" operate two charter schools.

The appeals board agreed with Daniel Fennick, representing Thackston at the hearing, that the school filed a new application with York City as requested and was following procedure.

Fennick had some harsh words for York City officials. He said York City School Board members and counsel are giving Thackston the run-around by coming up with new problems and dragging out the process.

"This is just a matter of the board deciding they don't want to approve this charter," Fennick said. "They changed their mind after the fact."

Fennick pointed out York City administrators last fall thought the high school application met their criteria, and that it appeared technicalities were delaying approval.

No 10th grade: Since the appeals board likely won't consider the application for at least a month, and won't take a vote on the application until possibly December, Fennick argued Thackston should be allowed to temporarily offer 10th grade until a decision is rendered.

Thackston's 52 ninth-graders from last year, about half of whom have been with Thackston for at least three years, are now in limbo waiting for a decision. Many of the 10th-graders are temporarily being taught at cyber schools or other charter schools, Fennick said, and Thackston "made a commitment" to teach these children.

Thackston would be taking the financial risk, he continued. If their appeal would be denied in a few months, Thackston would have paid for new curriculum and taught those students with no payment coming.

"We are not asking for 100 (10th grade) students like in the application. Just the 52 to continue what they have been doing," Fennick said.

Peterson said the request would set a dangerous precedent. Charter schools around the state could ask the appeals board to temporarily grant additional grades while they waited for decisions, effectively going around the local school board's wishes.

"You will have the floodgates open," Peterson said.

Tomalis and the board agreed with her. Tomalis told Fennick the board would' have had to take a "leap of faith" that Thackston would offer proper 10th-grade instruction, and that the board has no authority.

Expanding: Thackston Principal Jamy Jackson, who said she was pleased the board at least voted to consider the appeal, said Thackston would have to release the seats they had been holding for the 10th-graders. Those 52 seats will instead go to 5th-9th graders on a waiting list. 

The school is undergoing an $11 million renovation that will more than double its space and update the classrooms. The renovation will help fit either the high school or expanded enrollment of existing grades.

A groundbreaking ceremony will be held at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the school, located at 625 E. Philadelphia St.

- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdispatch.com