Kestrel Heights leaders expressed disappointment Thursday, April 6, at the State Board of Education’s (SBE) decision to uphold its earlier ruling to close the public charter school’s high school because students were awarded diplomas who did not meet state requirements for graduation.
The board’s unanimous decision came after a SBE review panel on Tuesday heard pleas from school leaders to allow the school to remain open.
Glenna Boston, vice chairwoman of Kestrel Heights' board and the parent of a fifth-grader at the school, said shortly after the decision that closing the high school will be tough on Kestrel’s students and families.
“This decision affects rising juniors who are going to have to finish their senior year somewhere else,” Boston said. “It affects sophomores who thought they were going to go to their junior and senior proms at Kestrel Heights. It affects the freshmen who were finally going to get out of their freshman phase and finally get to become sophomores. It affects a lot of students.”
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The SBE voted unanimously March 2 to order Kestrel to close its high school in the wake of an internal investigation that found 160 of Kestrel’s 399 graduates since 2008 didn’t meet the state’s requirements for a high school diploma.
The SBE said Thursday that after hearing and considering all of the evidence presented by Kestrel’s leaders and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, that the review panel “determined that the evidence supports the decision of the office of Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) and the State Board of Education to renew only the charter for the K-8” portion of Kestrel’s charter.
It also recommended that Kestrel, “in light of the very significant and serious ongoing issues regarding governance, personnel and record-keeping,” hire an independent professional auditor to conduct a thorough program audit of its K-8 operations and that the school.
Kestrel was also ordered to appear at the May meeting of the CSAB to provide a plan to retain an auditor at the school’s expense and to provide a timeline for the audit.
“KHCS must provide the audit report to the CSAB within 30 days of its completion and no later than October 31, 2017, whichever is sooner,” the review panel wrote in its report to the board. “Depending on the findings of the audit, additional stipulations may be imposed by the State Board of Education.
Kestrel has already agreed to stipulations set forth by the SBE that allow it to continue to operate its K-8 program, including appearing before state charter school officials every six months to deliver an update on the school’s progress.
It may apply to reinstate its high school in three years.
Meanwhile, Durham Public Schools Superintendent Bert L’Homme said DPS is prepared to welcome the 300 or more Kestrel students who will be impacted by the closing of the high school.
“We want to welcome Kestrel students back to their home public schools,” L’Homme said Thursday. “Whatever we need to do to welcome them back and make sure they have all of the applications and forms and everything so that they are ready for school next year, we’re prepared to do. We want to make sure there’s no break in their education.”
Stephon Bowens, Kestrel’s attorney, said the SBE failed to acknowledge that more than half of the students affected the diploma issue has either been made whole are in the process of being made whole.
“Most of this has been easily cured,” Bowens said. “They’re closing the high school, but since December, 60 percent of the students that have been adversely affected, almost half of those students have already been cured or are in the process of being cured. That’s relatively quick, and the remainder of the problem could have been cured in the next four months or so and the school could have been permitted to move forward.”
Bowens said Kestrel parents continue to have confidence in the leadership at Kestrel despite the SBE ruling.
He said as many as 900 parents and other supporters signed a petition urging the SBE to keep the high school open.
In addition, Bowen’s said Kestrel had the support of Durham’s legislative delegation.
“Unfortunately, that information fell on deaf ears at the State Board of Education,” Bowens said.
With the closure of the high school, Bowens said Kestrel will soon have to make some tough decisions with regard to staffing and facilities.
“Obviously, there will be some difficult decisions to be made with respect to staff, with respect to the building and the expenses associated with the high school building and how the school will absorb that in light of this decision,” Bowens said.