With less than three weeks before public schools start, parents at PACE Academy are still waiting to find out where their students will be attending school this year.
The Carrboro charter school appealed the N.C. State Board of Education decision to not renew the school’s charter in a four-day hearing that ended July 14.
The state board voted against renewal in February 2014 due to financial problems, poor testing results compared to students at surrounding schools and persistent patterns of noncompliance.
Public schools are scheduled to start Aug. 24. The ruling on PACE is scheduled to come on or before Thursday, Aug. 13, just over a week before school starts.
AnneMarie Fassler, a Chapel Hill resident whose two sons, Eddie and Joey currently attend PACE, said she doesn’t know where else to send her son Eddie, who has high-functioning autism.
“I know what I won’t be doing,” she said. “I won’t be sending him back to public school. It didn’t work the first time; I don’t see why it would work now.”
Fassler worries that public schools have too many students to effectively support Eddie, a rising senior.
“I dont know that the high school felt like they had the luxury of being able to tailor-make a lesson or an approach to Eddie the way they can at PACE Academy where there’s maybe eight kids in a class,” Fassler said.
Clifford Cunningham, a biology professor at Duke and a Durham parent, said his 17-year-old son, Nick, is worried about PACE’s future.
“He’s really very passionate about (PACE) and very, very upset about the developments this summer and not being able to find out until August 13 what the state of the school is,” Cunningham said.
“He’s very anxious that PACE might not open.”
Cunningham said Nick, who has Aspergers syndrome, is part of a “new generation, where there are enough kids with Asperger’s and autism that they are proud of having Aspergers.”
According to PACE, half of its students are exceptional children, meaning they have physical, mental or social disabilities.
“The face that PACE had a number of kids with Aspergers and autism and that the kids would do really well really appealed to him,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham said Nick is resistant to discussing other schooling options, and public schools are not an option.
“We live in Durham and our local school is Jordan, which is considered one of the best public schools in Durham, but it’s just huge, you know, thousands of kids, and that’s out of the question,” he said.
Cunningham said his family won’t plan Nick’s school year until the ruling is public.
“I think we’re all not really willing to explore (other options) until we really have to,” Cunningham said. “Even if it somehow disrupts the beginning of his semester, we’re so hopeful.”
“It’s very hard for us to imagine that a judge who’s really been exposed to all the facts could really come away and decide that PACE is somehow horribly at fault and deserves to be closed,” he added. “So I guess that’s what we’re clinging to.”
Cunningham said Nick had good experiences at Durham public schools until high school.
Kristin Bell, the executive director for Exceptional Children at Durham Public Schools, said adaptive problem-solving is necessary in providing services to exceptional children at the school level.
“Students’ needs change and we just need to be responsive as their needs change, that we’re providing the appropriate supports and that can be academic, social, emotional,” Bell said.
“But I think that’s also not much different than the needs of a general education student, you know, their needs change.”
Bell said Durham public schools have exceptional children teachers in all schools.
“I think we’re very well equipped to meet the needs of those students,” she said. “I think parents have choices. Some parents choose to go to charter schools, some parents go to private, and a lot of parents will stay with the public school system.”
“We want students to stay with us,” she said. “We know we can meet their needs.”
Fassler, a stay-at-home mother, said if the court rules against PACE, she will likely homeschool Eddie.
Her son Joey, she’ll likely send to public school, she said. Joey attends PACE because Eddie enjoyed it, but she thinks Joey would succeed in a traditional public school setting as well.
Fassler hopes a decision will be reached sooner rather than later.
“Time is precious when it comes to high school,” she said.