Federal judge refuses injunction sought by Delaware charter school trying to stave off closure

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DOVER, Delaware — A federal judge on Monday refused to issue an injunction sought by a struggling all-girls charter school in New Castle that is trying to stave off a second state-ordered closure.

After hearing arguments last Friday, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Stark in Wilmington ruled that attorneys for predominantly black Reach Academy had not shown that they are likely to succeed with any legal claims against the Delaware Department of Education, including claims of racial and gender discrimination. Therefore, they are not entitled to a preliminary injunction, the judge determined.

Stark's ruling came three days after a state Chancery Court judge ruled that students do not have a protected property interest in attending the school of their choice until graduation. That ruling came in a case involving New Moyer Academy, a failing, predominantly black charter school in Wilmington.

Delaware's state board of education voted unanimously in October to close Moyer. The school, formerly known as Moyer Academy, was put on formal review in July after turning in some of the lowest standardized test scores in the state last year. Moyer has struggled since it opened in 2006, and its charter was first revoked in 2010 after years of poor academic performance. Likewise, state officials say that in each of its four years of operations, Reach Academy has failed to meet state academic standards "by a wide margin."

In his ruling on Reach Academy, Stark cited Chancellor Andrew Bouchard's denial of Moyer's request for a preliminary injunction halting the revocation of its charter.

"I am mindful of the very real likelihood that one result of today's decision will be that Reach Academy will be closed, and the hundreds of girls now attending Reach will have to find different schools to attend," Stark wrote. "But, as I noted at the start, this case is not about whether a federal judge would like Reach to remain open. That is a decision for the DOE and the Secretary."

Stark noted that circumstances have changed since he granted a preliminary injunction last year that kept Reach Academy open for this school year.

Stark ruled last year that closing Reach Academy, the only all-girls public school in Delaware, while continuing to fund Prestige Academy, the state's single all-boys public school, would likely result in gender discrimination. Under state law at the time, officials were not allowed to consider any new applications for single-gender charter schools after June 30, 2013. That meant that if Reach were to close, there was no possibility for another all-girls charter school in Delaware.

Stark noted Monday that following his ruling last year, Delaware lawmakers amended the charter-school law to allow consideration of another all-girls charter school if Reach Academy were to close.

"The factual and legal context in which the current case arises, then, is strikingly different from that which was presented last year," Stark wrote. "In the prior case, allowing Reach to be closed would have forever prevented girls from receiving a potentially valuable educational opportunity that Delaware was at the same time providing to boys. Now ... allowing Reach to be closed will permit others who want to apply to be Delaware's only all-girls charter school to do so, and defendants will be required to consider such applications."

The state Board of Education voted unanimously in April 2014 to reject a proposed performance agreement submitted by Reach Academy, which has a long history of financial and academic struggles. School board members voted last month to revoke the school's charter following a series of public hearings and recommendations for revocation by a state review panel and Education Secretary Mark Murphy.

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