7th May 2010

Breaking News – Charter Schools OK in Georgia


Judge Rules State Charter Schools are Constitutional
By D. Aileen Dodd
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A Fulton County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that charter schools created by the state Georgia Charter Schools Commission are constitutional.
Judge Wendy L. Shoob’s quick decision came after listening closely to arguments presented by seven school districts that had complained money was being taken away from their students and given to charter schools they didn’t approve.

Shoob said Georgia law allows the schools to be approved and funded by the state. “It is not an independent school system,” Shoob said. “The General Assembly has provided sufficient guidelines.

Commission charter schools are not required to be under the control or managed by an elected board of education. The funding is constitutional.”

The news brought Nina Gilbert, head of school for Ivy Prep Academy, to tears. She left the courtroom and waited in a hallway, sobbing with relief. She then shared the good news with nine Ivy Prep students who had been ejected from the courtroom earlier.

“I am so overwhelmed and excited,” Gilbert said as she stood before her students. “This confirms we are doing the right thing and we are doing it for the right reason.
“All of our schools are constitutional. Now we can receive equal funding and our girls deserve that. We are so thankful for Judge Shoob.”

Students also were excited about the news. They huddled together smiling. “I feel extremely happy we finally got accepted to keep going,” Ivy Prep student Atiya Shaikh said.

Kathy Harwood, the head of school for the Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts & Technology, or CCAT, said she and her students were heading home to Statesboro vindicated.

“It’s the best news I’ve heard in eight years of doing this,” she said. The day didn’t start the way some of the students had hoped, after Shoob ejected 14 of them before the proceedings began. Some of the children had traveled four hours to get a live lesson in social studies and law.

“The judge has a standing order in all cases that kids of school age should be at school, not at the courthouse,” said Bruce Brown, a lawyer representing the charter schools named in the lawsuit, CCAT, Ivy Prep in Norcross and Heron Bay Academy in Locust Grove.
The disappointed students, shoulders slumped, filed out of the courtroom respectfully. Some were angry. Some were frustrated.

The judge apparently didn’t understand the point of the courthouse field trip and the untraditional ways in which charter school students learn, said Zahra Juma, a sixth-grader at Ivy Prep.

“We want to know how court works,” Zahra said as she sat on a bench in the shadow of the courtroom. “We wanted to learn something. We have a right to be in court because we are the main reason why they are here.”

The Ivy Prep students did as they are empowered to do at school when they find fault with the way the government works: They spoke up. The girls sat quietly drafting letters of complaint to the court, checking their spelling and sentence structure. They were not intimidated by the views of the adults.

“Today nine Ivy Prep scholars were denied the opportunity to be present in a hearing concerning our school,” wrote Zoe Nuhfer, a seventh-grader who said she came to cover the trial for the Ivy Vine, the school’s newspaper.

“The judge and bailiff in the court said kids were not permitted in the courtroom. We asked for an exception and it was rejected. Our scholars are upset that we could not support our school. …”

Students from CCAT were also upset. They carpooled four hours on Thursday and slept overnight in Atlanta to get good seats for the hearing. They sat across from the Ivy Prep students waiting for word of what was going on behind the court’s closed doors.

“I love that school,” said Emily Reeves, who waited with her mother and brother. “I grew up there. They are like my family.”

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