About 270 District children began classes this month in a school that applied but did not get permission to be a charter school, a situation officials said yesterday will almost certainly lead to its closing.
Tonya Vidal Kinlow, head of the school board's committee on charter schools, said her panel had worked since last March with the Kwame Nkrumah school to resolve serious problems. Despite the effort, the panel advised the school to tell parents in August that it would not be ready to open. Kinlow said classes should not have begun.
"I imagine they opened because they felt that once they opened, with the kids there, we would have to let them stay open," said Kinlow, who added that the school likely would not be granted a charter.
David Hill, the attorney for the school, acknowledged that classes began without permission Sept. 17. But Hill blamed the school board for the problem, saying the panel--one of two boards that charters schools--had indicated that it would approve the charter but then failed to do so at a meeting in mid-September.
Officials said the school will have to cease operating. Denise Tann, spokesman for D.C. School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, said that Kwame Nkrumah will have to vacate its location in a school system building being used as a charter hub. Parents will have to enroll their children in charter schools or neighborhood public schools.
Charter schools operate with public funds but outside the normal bureaucracy. Kwame Nkrumah, a multicultural school for students ages 5 through 18, sought to be one of 10 public charter schools opening this month, joining 19 already open.
Hill said Kwame Nkrumah received a provisional charter in December 1998, with the condition that it find a suitable facility. The school obtained a lease to move into the Rabaut building on Peabody Street in Northwest Washington.
Kinlow said school officials learned of a problem in the spring, when the head of the board of trustees at Kwame Nkrumah alerted them to a series of issues, including alleged violations of procurement rules and a lack of accounting procedures.
Hill, the attorney for Kwame Nkrumah, said the school provided the board with the information it needed and also made changes in its operations. But in June the school board's three-member subcommittee on charter schools voted to recommend to the full board that Kwame Nkrumah's charter be denied. The board, however, rejected the recommendation. After more work between the school board and the school, the charter committee voted 2 to 1 on Sept. 1, this time to recommend that the full board approve Kwame Nkrumah's charter. The full school board was supposed to vote at its Sept. 15 meeting but did not.
According to Hill, the school had met all demands of the school board and opened on Sept. 17 without a charter because it had to. "Their view is that they didn't have any choice but to open," Hill said. "They had the parents and kids out there waiting."