No resolution yet over proposed Peach charter school

Plans for a new Middle Georgia charter school are still on hold after a court hearing Tuesday.

The case is scheduled to reconvene at 9 a.m. April 7 in U.S. District Judge Marc Treadwell’s courtroom, said Rob Fortson, an attorney for Byron Peach Charter High School.

“The judge encouraged the parties to work together and come back in a week,” Fortson said.

Technically, he added, the issue doesn’t involve the school, which was not approved as a local charter school by the Peach County school board. The board and the Department of Justice are being tasked with determining the district’s progress toward unitary, or fully integrated, status.

The charter school has become entrenched in the decision because the Justice Department has expressed concerns about its impact on the overall racial dynamic in the county’s schools.

“My understanding is that because our attendance zone is Peach County ... our enrollment impacts their demographic, and because of that, we’re essentially treated the same as if we were another high school started by Peach County,” Fortson said.

In a March filing, the Department of Justice outlined complaints it had received about the proposed school.

“Specifically, these individuals express concern that the Charter is an attempt to draw wealthier white students and District resources away from Peach County High School, so that white children from the Byron neighborhood no longer have to attend school with black children from the Fort Valley neighborhood,” the filing reads, before recommending that Treadwell “decline to authorize” the school’s opening.

At the center of the discussion are the charter school’s transportation and attendance lottery policies.

The Department of Justice has found grounds for complaint with the school’s lack of a bus system, which Fortson said could be resolved with centralized pickup locations for students.

As for the lottery, Fortson is convinced that the school’s enrollment practices won’t create any issues. The only preference that might affect demographics is one allowing siblings of students chosen by lottery to also get an enrollment spot, he said, but even that isn’t relevant yet since there are still seats available in both the ninth and 10th grades based on preregistered families.

“The lottery would only kick in if we were past capacity,” he said.

With court clearance, the school is set to open for ninth- and 10th-grade students in August.

To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331.