What's next for Thackston? The charter appeals process

Junior Gonzalez
  • The York City school board is expected to vote to revoke the charter for Helen Thackston Charter School.

The York City school board will vote in two weeks on a resolution to begin proceedings to revoke the charter of Helen Thackston Charter School — and if history is any indication, it could be a lengthy, contentious process.

Helen Thackston Solicitor Brian Leinhauser, standing, addresses the board after York City superintendent Eric Holmes recommends to board members to pursue the revocation of the charter for Helen Thackston Charter School.

On Tuesday, the York City school board introduced a resolution to revoke the charter. Among the reasons cited are low academic performance, violations of the state Charter School Law and not fulfilling financial or audit requirements.

According to guidelines provided by the Department of Education, there are five reasons a district can decide to revoke or not renew a charter:

  • One or more material violations of the charter agreement

  • Failing to meet student performance requirements according to the School Code

  • Failing general standards of financial management/audit requirements

  • Breaking the law, especially those governing children with disabilities

  • A fraud conviction

The district only needs one reason from the five outlined by the Department of Education to pursue a nonrenewal or revocation of the charter.

If the board decides to revoke Thackston’s charter, the district would notify Helen Thackston in writing and appoint a hearing officer. According to the resolution, the hearing officer would “preside at and regulate the conduct and course of the public hearing(s).”

Both the district and Thackston would deliver arguments and bring forth individuals to speak on issues outlined by the district in its resolution to revoke.

York City district starts process to revoke Helen Thackston charter

Within 30 days of the final hearing, the hearing officer would make a recommendation to the state's Charter Appeal Board, which is composed of state Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera and six other members from different backgrounds relating to education.

“The appeals board exists in order to give what we hope will be an impartial and fair assessment of whether or not the school should stay open,” said Brian Leinhauser, solicitor for Helen Thackston Charter School. He has served as solicitor in several other charter dispute cases that have appeared before the board.

“You don’t let Target decide where a particular Wal-Mart is opened,” he said, referring to why the school board doesn't have the final say.

If the appeals board concludes the charter should not be revoked, the school board would be ordered to rescind the revocation. If it agrees to revoke, the charter school “shall be dissolved.” In past cases, schools have been allowed to finish the current school year or semester before closing their doors for good.

The losing party may also appeal to the Commonwealth Court if the appeals board rules against them, further lengthening the process. A final resort is an appeal to the state Supreme Court, which may or may not decide to hear the case.

School district spokeswoman Erin James said district solicitors will not comment until the board votes on the resolution.

Similarities with New Hope: If the school board is successful, Thackston will be the second charter school in the district to lose its authority to operate.

The board voted in 2012 to not renew the charter of the former New Hope Academy, which had consistently low test scores throughout its existence and failed to achieve adequate yearly progress in its first five years of operation.

Thackston  students' academic performance and the school's finances have been under scrutiny by the district as well.

York City school board president Margie Orr said another similarity in the two charter schools is improper record keeping of students' attendance.

Public opportunity: The board's resolution states a tentative date of Aug. 1 to commence public hearings on the potential revocation. The hearing could take several weeks or months to complete, according to Leinhauser. He added the entire process, from resolution to final order, might take several years.

New Hope's nonrenewal process and closure took nearly two years to complete.

Before the hearings, community members still have a chance to have their voices heard during public comment at all school board meetings.

The board's next committee meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, and its next voting meeting, which will include the vote on a resolution to begin revocation proceedings against Thackston, will be at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 21.