A legal fight between a planned charter school and its potential neighbors in northern Durham will likely force the school to delay opening a second time.
The state Charter School Advisory Board unanimously recommended Tuesday that the State Board of Education (SBE) grant Discovery Charter’s request to delay its opening until the 2019-20 school year while the school continues to wrestle with a lawsuit filed by residents who sued Durham County over the county Board of Adjustment’s approval of the school's site plan.
The SBE is expected to take up the matter next month.
The Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM)-themed charter middle school proposed for Orange Factory Road was scheduled to open in August, but the SBE gave school officials permission to delay its first scheduled opening until the 2018-19 school year due to the same legal issues.
“The court case continues to drag on,” said Carl Forsyth, the founder of Discovery Charter.
Forsyth said that because of the pending legal issues, Discovery Charter leaders have been unable to close on the school site.
“It’s a huge disappointment,” Forsyth said. “We’ve got tremendous interest out there. Durham County is doing everything it can to get the case wrapped up.”
He said there’s a chance the legal wrangling could end next month when Discovery Charter goes before the Board of Adjustment to address three areas a judge found the board in error when the judge heard the neighbors appeal.
“We believe those are three areas the county can rectify,” Forsyth said. “That would end the court case.”
County Attorney Lowell Siler could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Meanwhile, neighbors said they have been instructed by their attorney to not discuss the matter with media.
The neighbors contend that construction of the school would clog nearby roads that are already well-traveled and too narrow for additional traffic. They have also expressed concern about the potential harm to nearby Little River Reservoir.
Forsyth said Discovery Charter had filled its sixth-grade enrollment and half of its seventh-grade enrollment with students eager to start school this fall.
“And that’s without even cutting down a tree or moving a mound of dirt,” Forsyth said.
The school would have expanded to include eighth-grade next year. It would eventually enroll nearly 500 students.
Discovery Charter had been much discussed among leaders of the Durham Public Schools who, due to budgetary constraints had to postpone the opening of DPS’ own STEAM-themed school, Eagle Academy, which was supposed to opening on the campus of N.C. Central University last fall.
Eagle Academy was a pet project of former Superintendent Bert L’Homme.
DPS spokesman Chip Sudderth said Tuesday that he has not had any recent discussions with DPS leaders about Eagle Academy and is not sure if the district plans to move ahead with the school.