News: CJ Exclusives

Charter School Catering To Disabled Students In Trouble

Budget problems, lack of tracking measures cited at Dynamic Community Charter School

Dozens of Triangle-area middle- and high-schoolers and their parents could be looking for another school next year if the State Board of Education closes the Dynamic Community Charter School — a school intended to fill a void for disabled children who have not fit in at traditional public schools.

The school, in its first year of operation, serves 70 students. Its Web page says it enrolls students with a wide range of disabilities, including autism, Sotos syndrome, intellectual delays, dyspraxia, fetal alcohol syndrome, congenital genetic disorders, and anxiety issues.

At its March meeting, the state board initiated steps to close the Raleigh-based charter school. The school has appealed, and a three-member appeal panel appointed by the state board’s chairman Bill Cobey will hear the appeal March 30 before making a recommendation to the full board.

“They were going to have a significant financial deficit at the end of the year,” Joel Medley, director of the Office of Charter Schools, cited as a reason the charter revocation process was started. “According to the Exceptional Children’s Division, they are not serving the children in accordance with the IEPs.” IEPs are individualized education programs established for teaching children with disabilities.

Parents and faculty members are hoping to convince the panel, and eventually the state board, to allow Dynamic to continue operations.

“My son has progressed exponentially this year because his self-confidence has progressed,” said Sara Brady, president of the parents association at Dynamic. She said that before attending Dynamic, her son had discussed dropping out of high school. But now, he not only wants a high school diploma but also wants to become a teacher.

Parents have written to the state’s Charter School Advisory Board and the State Board of Education urging the state not to close the school. Parents describe how their children were bullied at traditional public schools because of their disabilities.

One couple wrote of their son’s troubles in a traditional middle school, saying he is thriving at Dynamic. They said the reality of going to a larger school and the “social complexities” of going to middle school had proved too much for their son, who was hospitalized for anxiety and thoughts of suicide twice since starting middle school.

“Now that he is home and attending DCCS, his anxiety levels have improved and he is much happier and able to focus on school,” they wrote. He’s making friends and loves going to school every day, they wrote, adding, “He continues to grow and thrive.”

Medley said the school’s woes can’t be overlooked. “They were going to have a significant financial deficit at the end of the year,” he said. Plus, Medley said, the school is not meeting its IEP obligations.

Among the concerns expressed by state Department of Public Instruction staff were lack of structure in the classroom, a lack of using evidence-based practices shown to be effective in teaching students with autism, and the lack of an opportunity for students at the school to interact with “typically developing peers.”

Brady said some of the problems cited are found in traditional public schools.

“I think that we’re challenging the way that special education is taught in North Carolina,” Brady said. “It seems that they are targeting us for things that are not ordinarily an issue in traditional public schools.”

Brady also said the school is expected to close the school year without a budget deficit, in part because it recently received an $80,000 grant designed for schools enrolling a significant number of home-schooled students. Brady said about one-third of Dynamic’s students came from home schools.

Medley isn’t as optimistic. “The deficit has been projected to be in excess of $200,000,” he said.

Cobey said the state board could make a final decision as early as April.

If the state board continues the process of revoking Dynamic’s charter, the school can appeal to the Administrative Office of the Courts, and eventually to Superior Court, Cobey said.

Cobey said that whatever the state board decides, the school and parents have raised awareness that a school like Dynamic fills a need. “I’m in support of this type of school as an alternative for parents of children that have a disability,” Cobey said.

Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.