Byron charter school OK to open, but not this fall

Prospective students listen to a presentation about the Byron Peach Charter School in November 2014.
Prospective students listen to a presentation about the Byron Peach Charter School in November 2014. The Telegraph

Byron Peach Charter School has been cleared to open, but that won’t happen this fall.

The school got clearance from U.S. District Judge Marc Treadwell, necessary because of a federal desegregation order in Peach County, but it didn’t come in time for the school to open for the 2015-16 school year.

“It was in everybody’s best interest not to open,” said Roy Lewis, chairman of the school’s board of directors.

About 100 students had registered to attend the school, which is expected to operate in the old Byron Elementary School building. Renovations to that building, estimated at $350,000, were among the many items on a list of tasks to be completed before the school can open.

Lewis said an additional year could benefit that effort and cut some costs, since people associated with the school can help with cleaning the building and other tasks.

“With the extra time, we may be able to knock some of that out by doing it ourselves,” he said.

The consent order added more items to that list. The school will have to report to the court its demographic information, including the race of teachers, students, administrators and board members.

By May 1 or within 30 days of the end of each year’s early enrollment, the school must file a status report of recruitment initiatives and the demographic information of applicants.

Treadwell noted in a May 18 letter that he was aware deadlines had probably passed, adding that the order would no longer apply when the district achieves unitary, or officially integrated, status.

“I understand this order may have come too late to allow Byron Peach Charter School Inc. to open this year,” he wrote.

Treadwell also filed an order on May 21 requiring federal officials, state officials and Peach County to complete the necessary process to establish the county’s desegregation status by June 22.

The school is also required to make special efforts to recruit black teachers and students, specifically from the Fort Valley area.

“No later than July 30 of the academic year prior to the first year of its operation, BPCS will conduct at least 3 recruiting events in Fort Valley through churches and civic associations/organizations designed to reach black families,” according to the order.

Beyond that, the school is required to “amend its enrollment priority system to incorporate a preference” for students “whose race is underrepresented at BPCS compared to the overall racial demographics” of the Peach County school system.

Specifically, if the percentage of black students at the school dips more than 15 percent below the percentage of black students in the Peach County school district on March 1 of a given year, the school has to come up with a plan to remedy that.

“The plan will identify possible causes of the enrollment disparities and any barriers to enrollment,” the order states. “The plan will outline measures BPCS will undertake to increase black student enrollment.”

The school’s organizers had not originally planned to provide transportation, but agreed to do so to gain court approval. Students will be picked up by bus at two locations in Fort Valley, one in Powersville and another in Byron.

“We’ll have strategic drop-off points throughout the county, so we would essentially be running a bus from Fort Valley,” Lewis said.

Lewis said the school originally filed for consent in October and added that he didn’t expect the proceedings to take seven months. While that has kept the school from opening for now, Lewis said he hopes the additional time will be beneficial in the long run.

“We’re glad to have that behind us,” he said. “We don’t see any other obstacles now.”

To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331.