The Florida Board of Education on Friday overturned Leon County’s rejection of a new charter school. The action means that, barring additional appeals, Tallahassee Classical School will be allowed to open in the 2019-2020 school year.
The vote is the second time this summer the board has overturned a school board’s rejection of a charter school application. In July, the board supported opening two charter schools in Palm Beach county that were rejected by the Palm Beach School Board.
The decisions followed separate recommendations by the Charter School Appeal Commission, which ruled that the school boards did not have good cause to reject the South Palm Beach Charter, Renaissance Charter High School and Tallahassee Classical School applications.
The Leon School Board had voted unanimously on April 24 to deny the Classical application, citing the school’s failure “to achieve a racial ethnic/balance reflective of the community it serves or within the racial/ethnic range of other public schools in the district.” The board also alleged the school would discriminate against students with disabilities.
In its formal appeal, the school argued the board’s denial was “void of any competent or substantial evidence.” The denial sent ripples through the charter school community. In the same April meeting, the Leon Board also denied an application for Plato Academy to open in 2019. But the Plato board decided not to appeal.
Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna addressed the state board Friday about concerns regarding the application, and argued there are limited financial resources to support traditional public schools.
But, overall, he said what worried him most was the lack of diversity at the school reflective of the community. He cited a 2017 article in the Tallahassee Democrat, which reported that Leon County had the most segregated schools in the state. He said local charter schools do not reflect the demographics of the county.
State board member Michael Olenick said Hanna’s comments resonated with him and he hoped there could be a dialogue between Hanna and the school, so they can informally address those concerns.
Jana Sayler, co-founder of Tallahassee Classical, said she would welcome that conversation.
“We desire to have a diverse population at Tallahassee Classical and intend to recruit across all demographics in Leon County,” she said. “We do look forward to forming a good relationship with the superintendent and with the Leon County school district.”
Sayler is planning to open a K-8 school that will provide a “classical education” to 450 students. A classical education introduces students to the classic works of literature and history while giving them a chance to grapple with the big ideas found in the texts, she said.
“We are really committed to providing a strong culture and content enriched curriculum, teacher-led instruction and an engaging learning environment that stresses the importance of moral character and civic virtue,” said Sayler.