The state Supreme Court has breathed new life into a Mon County charter school bid.
The idea of a charter school serving Monongalia County was resurrected from the grave last week and the school could be in operation as soon as fall 2022, depending on to what degree the state Supreme Court gets involved.
The West Virginia Academy’s application was denied by the Mon County Board of Education in early December after a recommendation to do so was made by school superintendent Eddie Campbell, who said the application had deficiencies in seven of 10 areas.
In order for the school to have opened this fall, the state Supreme Court would have had to take action and the charter agreement would have needed to be in place on March 1, says Academy Board President John Treu. “Unfortunately, the antics of the West Virginia Department of Education have successfully delayed the opening of our school by at least one year. Even if the Supreme Court overruled those regulations and granted our school the right to open this fall, by the time that decision is granted we’d be just weeks away from the start of the semester.”
Legislation passed in 2019 authorized the creation of an initial three charter schools in West Virginia. Charter schools receive public money but operate independently from the normal public school channels. These schools are granted more autonomy to operate as they see fit, but can be shuttered quickly if they fail to perform. The Academy was the first applicant since the bill’s passing.
Although no charter school has yet operated in the state, the Legislature now in session is enthusiastically expanding the potential role of charter schools—in fact, aiming to increase the number allowed to open in the state over the next three years from three to 10. Proposed legislation also creates a West Virginia Professional Charter School Board charged with considering future charter school applications. The creation of this board remedies the main problem that the Academy experienced as the first-ever applicant: Leaving approval up to a superintendent of schools who the Academy felt had a conflict of interest and inherent bias and a school board that was likely to accept the superintendent’s recommendation. According to state law, a charter school would operate independently of the superintendent’s office and report directly to a county’s school board.
House Bill 2012 also paves the way for charter schools that would operate virtually. Treu says the West Virginia Academy will offer live instruction supplemented by an online option for students who missed in-person classes. He says the online option is particularly appealing in small counties and remote locations throughout the state that might lack a sufficient population base to make a charter school viable.
The state Supreme Court last week ordered the Mon Board of Education to explain why the West Virginia Academy’s application for charter was rejected. The two parties will have oral arguments in front of the court on May 4.