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As rules governing W.Va. charter schools roll out, teachers union announces plans to sue

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — While members of the state Board of Education said the public needs more time to absorb the implications of introducing charter schools in West Virginia, a teachers union announced plans to sue over the charter schools possibility.

Fred Albert

“We have felt the citizens of West Virginia were shut out, were not listened to,” said Fred Albert, president of American Federation of Teachers-WV.

“Based upon that, we are intending to send a letter of intent to sue over the charter school part. We feel it is unconstitutional.”

Albert alluded to the state constitution’s requirement for a thorough and efficient education. He made reference to the possibility of a referendum by voters on the charter schools issue.

The state Legislature passed a charter schools provision a few months ago, as part of a broader bill affecting the state’s education system. Since then, lawyers in the state Department of Education have been working on the specific rules that would govern charter schools.

The state Department of Education released a 47-page charter schools policy on Wednesday evening, saying it was largely drawn from the state law that passed.

MORE Read overview of policy here 

Debra Sullivan

During a meeting this morning, state board member Debra Sullivan proposed allowing a 60-day comment period, double the usual period. The board would then consider the policy for approval after that.

“Because we haven’t had an opportunity to really read it and because this is an important topic for us to be dealing with it seems to me it would be prudent to give ample time not only for us to read and digest but also the public,” Sullivan said.

“So normally we put things out for 30 days, but I would say this one merits a 60-day comment period. ”

Any charter school would be part of the state’s public education system, but would be exempt from most statutes and administrative regulations. Schools that fail to meet standards could lose their charter.

No charter schools may operate until the 2021-22 school year. Three charter schools may open initially then three more in 2023, then three more every three years.

Any group or entity with 501(c)3 status — or that has applied for that status — could submit an application. Charter schools could be authorized by county school boards.

Each charter school would be run by a local governing board.

“Does it have a lot of safeguards in there for our children?” state board member Sullivan asked this morning.

Sarah Stewart

“I believe that it does,” responded Sarah Stewart, counsel for the Department of Education.

“There are a lot of requirements that a charter applicant would have to go through and that a governing board would have to adhere to to open and operate a charter school.”

She added, “That’s not meant to be onerous, but it’s to ensure we have a transparent process and that we know what’s going on because this is a different kind of school.”

Stewart was a guest this morning on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

The West Virginia Education Association, back in July, announced it would sue over the omnibus education bill that includes the charter schools provision.

But the WVEA’s 30-days notice of the lawsuit describes challenges to a range of other aspects of the omnibus bill, rather than focusing directly on the charter schools component.

The WVEA has not followed up by filing a lawsuit.

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