PACE Academy has closed its doors after losing an appeal this week of the State Board of Education’s May revocation of the school’s charter.
The decision comes just a week before area students return to school.
Paul Bedford, chairman of the school’s board of directors, emailed parents Friday morning to thank them for entrusting “their children to the grand experiment that was PACE Academy and their loyalty and unwavering support for PACE and its staff.”
Bedford also thanked the school administration and staff members for “their dedication and loyalty.”
Administrative Law Judge Philip Berger Jr. ruled Thursday that the state board did not follow the procedure for revoking the school’s charter when it made the decision at a specially called meeting instead of its next regularly scheduled meeting.
The decision’s timing does not mean the board acted in bad faith, Berger said, because there was “substantial evidence” the school did not comply with all the requirements of a 2014 settlement. The school also failed to meet all federal and state rules for an exceptional children’s program and state reporting requirements, he said.
PACE Academy parent Anthony Edwards said he waited for the decision before enrolling his son Friday at East Chapel Hill High School. The rising senior moved to PACE Academy from East because of health problems, Edwards said.
PACE offered a more flexible environment, Edwards said, and they now have his son’s health under control. Edwards expects his son, who also registered for online community college courses, to successfully graduate this year. Other parents aren’t as lucky, he said.
“What I feel bad about is almost half the population of the school was special needs or (students with disabilities),” he said. “PACE is a great catcher for people who fell out of the system.”
Rebecca Sorenson said there is no plan B for her son Raimee. She expects to homeschool him while seeking a microenterprise grant to build a greenhouse so he can continue his occupational studies.
The 18-year-old, who has autism and epilepsy, was homeschooled for eight years before enrolling at PACE and is on track to graduate this year, she said. Traditional schools failed to serve him in the past, she said, but at PACE, he was succeeding and making friends.
“He was jumping out of the car before I was even coming to a complete stop, because he was so excited to be at school and not with his mom all day,” she said.
This is the second time the charter school, located on Merritt Mill Road in Carrboro, has wrangled with the state since opening in 2004.
A 2012 settlement, stemming from an unsuccessful charter renewal process, allowed PACE to stay open for the 2014-15 school year. There were lingering concerns, however, about financial problems, poor test results compared to other district students and persistent patterns of noncompliance.
The financial concerns “were questionable,” Berger said, but “multiple site visits to the school revealed a pattern of negligent, inconsistent, and careless student accounting.”
The state argued the biggest issue was the school’s failure to meet state requirements for its Exceptional Children program. It was unclear if student Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs, were being followed, state officials said, and special education teachers were overworked. State checks also found discrepancies between reported and actual attendance.
Sorenson said her son was often out of class, because having a job was part of his occupational studies. The state’s decision has caused “a lot of tears” and hurt families without other good options, she said.
“We are immensely grateful for the time we had at PACE and we are unbelievably sad that the state has made this decision,” she said. “In my opinion, it is just one more example to our kids of how little they are thought of by the people who are supposed to be looking out for them.”