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Federal judge rules against New Hope Charter parents in civil rights case

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

After several consecutive rulings against them, parents suing York City School District administrators and board members for civil rights violations stemming from the 2014 closure of New Hope Academy Charter School have been dealt yet another legal blow — this time from a federal appeals court.

On Sept. 27, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a decision by a district court in December 2016, which accepted the York City School District’s request to dismiss the lawsuit.

New Hope Academy Charter School seventh-graders, from left, Josiah Wilson, Jasiia Martin and Lesly Maza chant outside the York City School District building after students, parents and staff marched from the school to the Community Education Committee Board Meeting being held there Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013. The school has been ordered to close January 15. BILL KALINA-bkalina@yorkdispatch.com

A group of students and parents — more than 55 plaintiffs — claimed York City School District board members and administrators treated New Hope unfairly compared with another charter school in the area, Helen Thackston Charter School, which the New Hope group says violated their civil rights under the 14th Amendment.

More:Thackston Charter: A look back at New Hope, York City's last charter school fight

More:York City board votes to start Thackston charter revocation

More:Thackston preparing to make its case against charter revocation

The parents also claimed the district destroyed evidence in the form of a former superintendent's email account that could help demonstrate illegal efforts by administrators to shutter the charter school.

In an opinion by Third Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kent A. Jordan, the court said Thackston’s PSSA scores were significantly better than than those of New Hope students and that alone is “sufficient to provide a rational basis for treating the two schools differently.”

The panel also affirmed a lower court’s decision siding with the York City School District in dismissing claims that the district conspired to violate the civil rights of parents and students by closing the school.

Jordan called an argument by plaintiffs regarding the destruction of a former York City School District assistant superintendent's email account to be "particularly weak," saying there was no argument that the administrator changed test scores, which was the "rational basis" in which York City voted not to renew New Hope's charter.

New Hope Academy Charter School closed in June 2014 after a Commonwealth Court upheld a decision from the state Charter Appeals Board to not grant a renewal of the school’s charter. In the years since, local parents and residents have appealed court rulings against the school, challenging the 3-year-old nonrenewal decision.

Helen Thackston Charter School, which was mentioned in the appeals court opinion as a markedly higher-performing school than New Hope, will fight for its survival during eight hearings of revocation against the school’s charter, beginning in October.