Supreme Court rules against charter school’s challenge to its rejection

The state Supreme Court has ruled against a charter school’s challenge to its rejection in Monongalia and Preston counties.

Justices issued a memorandum decision on Tuesday afternoon, siding against the arguments brought by West Virginia Academy, which last year proposed a new school serving Monongalia and Preston counties. All five justices signed the decision.

Oral arguments in the case were May 4.

The charter school applicant contended the counties didn’t follow the proper process, that they missed a deadline, that missing the deadline meant the application should have automatically been considered approved, and that the state Department of Education should have stepped in to facilitate the approval.

West Virginia Academy’s suit is against the Department of Education, contending it had the final say, rather than against the counties.

The justices concluded the Department of Education did not have that obligation and that the law did not spell out their ability to do so.

“After reviewing the parties’ written and oral arguments, as well as the submitted record and the applicable law, this Court concludes that the Department does not have a legal duty to do that which the petitioner seeks,” justices wrote.

Later in the memorandum, they elaborated.

“WV Academy could have sought legal redress against the two county boards of education in this matter but did not do so,” justice wrote. “In essence, WV Academy is seeking to have the Department serve as an appellate tribunal to decide whether or not a county board of education authorizer properly and timely conducted its application review.”

But such a process isn’t included in the law established by the Legislature in 2019, justices wrote.

The Department of Education contended that the two counties don’t believe they missed the deadline and so there’s no clear way for the state to intervene.

Deciphering the actual deadline is a point of confusion.

State law gave county boards 90 days from the date of a charter school application to decide whether to approve. If no action was taken, an application would be considered approved by default.

West Virginia Academy submitted its application July 24.

That would have made the deadline for a decision Oct. 22.

Monongalia and Preston did not meet that deadline.

However, there was a different way to interpret the deadline. Rules established by the state Department of Education for the first year established an August 31 deadline covering all charter school applications.

And that rule established a deadline 90 days after that, Nov. 30, for authorizers to approve or deny applications.

Lawyers for the state Department of Education wrote that there was a reason for deadlines that would be consistent for all applicants. West Virginia had limited the number of charter schools to three the first year, and there was anticipation that multiple applicants might be competing against each other.

“The underlying public education policy supporting this rule is to prevent a scenario in which the first charter school applications in the door get acted upon merely because they beat everyone else to the punch on the calendar,” lawyers for the state board wrote in their brief to the Supreme Court.

The Monongalia and Preston County boards met Nov. 30 — the exact day of that deadline — and rejected the charter school application.

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