Prince George’s County schools chief Kevin M. Maxwell has denied a charter school’s request that children of College Park residents employed by the University of Maryland be given special consideration when applying to the school, which has ties to the university.
In a letter to the chairman of the board of College Park Academy, Maxwell said the request to reserve 50 percent of the school’s seats for children of U-Md. employees who live in the city is not allowable under Maryland charter school rules. The rules say that a county charter school must be open to all county students and must admit students by lottery if more apply than can be enrolled.
The charter school, which has an enrollment of 375 students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades, initially wanted to set aside up to 65 percent of its seats for students who live in College Park. That request, which did not specify children of U-Md. employees, was also rejected.
“We have made our position clear that our understanding of the Maryland Public Charter School Program does not allow for a special catchment for College Park residents nor a reservation of seats for employees of the University,” Maxwell wrote.
College Park Academy, which opened last year to great fanfare, offers a “blended learning” curriculum that allows students to move at their own pace and includes a substantial online component.
Among those who took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the school — a partnership of College Park, U-Md. and the county school system — were Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), U.S. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D), County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and U-Md. President Wallace D. Loh.
The school offers seven foreign languages and plans to grow by a grade level a year until it offers classes through 12th grade. All of the curriculum and 50 percent of the instruction are presented online.
In its first year, the charter school has outpaced many other middle schools in the county and across Maryland on standardized tests in reading and math, school officials said. Nearly 90 percent of the students took classes above grade level, the officials said.
State Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s), the school’s chairman, said the request on behalf of children of U-Md. employees was not intended to exclude students who live elsewhere in the county. The point, he said, was to ensure that children who live nearby can attend the school.
“It would look more like a neighborhood public school,” Rosapepe said. “That’s all the city and university are seeking, to make it more like a neighborhood school.”
The city and U-Md. want to make living in College Park attractive to university employees, Rosapepe said. He said that only 4 percent of the university’s faculty and staff members live in the city.
Rosapepe said the charter school is in discussions with Maxwell about its future and that it might enter into an agreement with the county as a “contract” school instead of a charter school. The change, he said, would allow the school to adjust its enrollment policies.
In his letter, Maxwell told Rosapepe that state legislation would be necessary to exempt the school from the enrollment requirements in state law governing charter schools. Maxwell said that even if the General Assembly granted College Park Academy an exception, he is not inclined to support changes in the school’s charter agreement because of other concerns about its governance, concerns cited in his letter.
The letter said Maxwell recently became aware that James Frank Brewer, the school’s executive director, had “attempted to access student data,” which he said would violate the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act if done without parental consent.
Brewer did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday. William DuBois, an attorney for College Park Academy, said in a letter that Brewer had “legitimate education interests in accessing student records in order to evaluate and improve [the school’s] instructional program.”
Maxwell’s letter also asked whether Brewer was serving as both the school’s executive director and the finance chair of its board of directors, a pairing that he deemed a conflict of interest. He also asked about the board’s allegedly having closed-door meetings in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act.
In a letter to Maxwell, Rosapepe said Brewer is an interim executive director and does not have a vote on the board. The board replaced Brewer as finance chair with Bob Catlin, a retired government economist. The letter to Maxwell said Brewer is compensated by the College Park City-University Partnership.
Rosapepe’s letter also said the board has conducted open meetings and is “committed to complying with the open meetings law and giving parents timely notification of meetings.”