The S.C. General Assembly has approved an extensive charter school measure – now awaiting only Gov. Nikki Haley’s signature – that in part will allow charter school students to participate in extracurricular activities at a traditional public school nearest their attendance zone.
Aiken County has three charter schools – only one of them a high school, the Aiken Performing Arts Academy. The new regulations also will include virtual education students who participate in the state’s virtual charter school program, said J.W. Ragley, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Education.
The most recent numbers within the past year indicated 233 students were enrolled in the virtual program, which would include younger children as well as high school students.
This legislation does not address the same extracurricular opportunities for home-schooled children. However, a separate bill addressing those students has passed the S.C. Senate and is awaiting a House vote.
Ragley said S.C. Superintendent of Education Dr. Mick Zais supports the home-school bill as well as the public charter school legislation.
Bill Burkhalter, the attorney for the Aiken County School District, said the charter school measure will take much study to determine the full impact of the provision changes.
“The imposition of extracurricular opportunities for charter school students will be a huge management issue for the school districts, some of which is extremely difficult.” said Burkhalter. “It should be a privilege for these students to participate in extracurricular activities, not an entitlement.”
Specifically, a charter school student can avail himself of sports or other activities at a traditional school only if his charter program doesn’t provide that opportunity. That could include band, chorus, clubs and even the Honor Society, Ragley said.
“I think it’s a great step in the right direction,” said S.C. Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield. “It is allowing more students to participate in these activities, giving parents and students more choices about educational benefits.”
All parents of charter schools and the virtual school district pay taxes to support the public schools that are not educating their children, Ragley said.
The legislation does provide that a charter student would have to make a sports team like any other student. He would be subject to the same disciplinary requirements of the traditional school.
Burkhalter did express relief that the new legislation did not revise the procedure in which traditional schools can become charter schools. Currently, a traditional school can be converted with two-third votes of the faculty and two-thirds of parents who take part in a voting process. Earlier proposals in the past two years had called for a simple majority.
Two charter schools – Lloyd-Kennedy and Midland Valley Prep – opened in Aiken County in 2002, both approved annually by the Aiken County Board of Education. LKCS director Keisha Lloyd-Kennedy later established the performing arts academy, housed at the same facility.
Lloyd-Kennedy said some of her high school boys and a few girls have expressed interest in the opportunity to play high school sports. She would be happy to work with the district on this and appreciates the good working relationship for many years.
“I can understand the management concerns from a coach’s perspective,” Lloyd-Kennedy said. “But we would let our students know that if they play on a high school team, they would have to abide by their regulations.”
Throughout the past decade, Aiken School District officials in the Division of Special Programs have worked with all three schools in the area of special education. The State Department had stipulated that requirement, and soon it will become the charter school law.
Burkhalter made clear that his concerns are not with the existing charter schools, but with the concept.
“We’re held responsible after the fact for any charter school’s deficits or omissions,” Burkhalter said. “But we have no control of the staff and can’t hire or fire anyone. The public has no comprehension of these expenses and costs related to students who are not in the district, but in the charter schools.”
For Keisha Lloyd-Kennedy, it’s in her best interests to comply with all the rules. If she does not, the Aiken School Board could choose to revoke her charter. The Division of Special Services and its director, Dr. Sal Minolfo, have been very helpful, Lloyd-Kennedy said, in providing guidance on federal regulations that impact her special education students.
“I know my obligations are to provide my students a fair and reasonable education,” Lloyd Kennedy said. “I have the same obligation to the school district. I don’t want them to have issues with the state and then come back on us.”
A lot of school districts around the state, Minolfo said, have tenuous relationships with their charter schools over the requirements the law places on distrust. That can be difficult for school districts
That being said, “We have had an amicable relationship with our charter schools,” Minolfo said. “We provide some funding and in-kind services that are not monetary. We want their programming to be successful. Our attitude is to work with them as closely as possible and make sure they’re doing things right.”
Ragley does not see the revamped charter legislation as a serious issue for the state’s school districts. Districts that have thousands of students can accommodate a few more, he said.
“It’s about equity and access,” said Ragley said. “These students should have the opportunity to participate.”
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.
Source: Aiken Standard