New charter school law welcomed by some; district officials fret details

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New charter school law welcomed by some; district officials fret details

By RACHEL HEATON
rheaton@beaufortgazette.com
Published Monday, May 28, 2012   |  603 Words  |  

Local charter school leaders say a new state charter school law is good news, but Beaufort County School District officials are worried about its ramifications, particularly when it comes to athletics.

The law, which Gov. Nikki Haley signed May 14, allows universities to sponsor charter schools and for the creation of single-gender schools.

Also, the law -- which will affect the 47 public charter schools across the state and the more than 50 planned to open in the next few years -- allows charter-school students to participate in extracurricular activities and sports at the public school they would otherwise attend.

Royal Live Oaks Academy of the Arts and Sciences co-founder and director Karen Wicks said that's good news for the about 400 students set to attend the Hardeeville school when it opens in August.

Ivie Szalai, the chairwoman of the planned Bridges Preparatory School, agreed. Both schools plan to offer kindergarten through 12th grade in the future.

"I think the trend for charter high schools is to lose those students who really do want to play sports," Szalai said. "This gives them a way to do both."

Charter schools are public schools, but they aren't governed by the county school board. They instead have separate boards to make decisions about the way they spend money and the curriculum they offer.

It's charter schools' independence from rules other schools must follow that worries some district officials, particularly when it comes to athletics.

Bluffton High School athletic director Dave Adams said charter-school students playing a sport at another school won't get the full student-athlete experience.

"There's pep rallies, walking down the hall with your jersey on, and all the things that go along with that," he said.

Such arrangements could also create problems for the traditional schools, Adams says, using as an example a student-athlete who doesn't turn in his jersey at season's end. If that student attended Bluffton High, he wouldn't be allowed to graduate until it was returned or paid for. But Adams said he isn't sure the same penalty could be carried out if the student went to a charter school.

Beaufort High School athletic director Jerry Linn foresees the potential for problems when a charter-school child is cut from a team: The student or his or her parent might contend they were cut because they don't go to the school, not for lack of ability.

Superintendent Valerie Truesdale said determining whether a student-athlete is academically eligible could become more complicated, as well.

For instance, the district recently adopted a requirement that athletes to maintain a 2.0 grade point average. The district doesn't have access to the grades or discipline records of students in the S.C. Public Charter School District, such as Royal Live Oaks Academy or the planned Bridges Prep, Truesdale said.

School districts across the state will examine how other states handled similar problems, which should not be insurmountable, Truesdale added.

"It's healthy for a society to have options for families," she said. "We've just got to figure out how to do this and make it work."

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeoomBft.

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Charter school in Jasper County selects first student body; March 14, 2012

Proposed charter school could open in fall 2013; March 5, 2012