Charter school proposal in Loudoun ignites opposition

December 16, 2012

Lots of people in Loudoun County would love to see an innovative new school focusing on math and information technology, preparing teenagers for careers in high-demand, high-salary fields.

But when a group proposed the creation of a public charter school that would do just that, opposition was fierce. Some worried that taxpayer dollars would be misused.

Many said the school would be part of a network of Islamic charters spreading across the United States, a claim the applicants have repeatedly denied. A pastor warned board members about God’s wrath.

On Thursday evening, the proposal hit another hurdle along the way to the Loudoun school board’s final vote: Two members recommended that the full board deny the application, and the third member of the subgroup studying the proposal recommended a delay and asked the applicants to consider the “major obstacles” that stand in the way of the school’s success.

There are people in the community who are against the Loudoun Math & IT Academy proposal, said committee member Jeff Morse, who voted to delay with cause, and there are some who are for it. “But the vast majority of people I spoke with want a charter school — they just don’t believe this is the right one.

“As a charter school advocate, I’m encouraged by that,” Morse said. “I hope we do see more applications. I really do think we have a hole in our curriculum that this applicant has identified.”

The academy’s board members issued a statement Friday through a public relations firm, saying they look forward to the next stage of the review — the full board is likely to make a decision in March — and that they are making progress in improving their plans.

They said the proposal, which is modeled after the Chesapeake Science Point charter in Anne Arundel County, “clearly addresses an unmet need for individualized math and IT-focused education within LCPS” and can be adapted “to our community so that it can be an option for all Loudoun’s children.”

Chesapeake Science Point has been controversial, drawing criticism for its hiring and contracting, among other things.

The school also has been praised for its students’ high test scores.

The charter would be part of the Loudoun County Public Schools, open to any interested student in grades six to 12, with a curriculum focusing on math, technology fields including cybersecurity, science and a yet-to-be-determined foreign language identified by the State Department as a “critical language.”

The county’s per-pupil spending would follow the nearly 700 students who enrolled — about $8 million — but the charter would pay for capital costs such as the school’s building.

Several people involved with the application did not respond to messages seeking comment, but Mindy Carlin, a spokeswoman, said a group of Loudoun parents had come up with the idea.

Critics have said the school would be funded by followers of an influential Muslim leader and Turkish scholar — alleging that the school is a vehicle to spread the group’s beliefs — but Carlin said the school would be a public institution with no religious or ethnic focus, pointing out that such a focus “would be illegal.”

Loudoun school board member Brenda Sheridan, who voted to deny the application, said her opinion was based on the details of the proposal and what the proposal lacked.

“I’ve been disappointed with the answers we’ve received. . . . I would expect a charter application in the works two years to come with a full curriculum, a business plan and be able to really answer our questions.”

Susan Svrluga is a Virginia rover for the Washington Post, covering anything and everything that’s happening in the Commonwealth.
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