Charter school told to shut down, director vows to fight - - Columbia, South Carolina

Charter school told to shut down, director vows to fight

A classroom inside MLD's former Bishopville operation. A classroom inside MLD's former Bishopville operation.
Benita Dinkins Benita Dinkins

A Midlands school has been told by the state's charter school governing body to close its doors by Friday after a judge ruled in favor of its decision to revoke the institution's charter. The director of the school told WIS Wednesday she plans to keep the school open.

The South Carolina Public Charter School District said Tuesday that it has stopped dispersing funds to the Mary L. Dinkins Higher Learning Academy Charter School (MLD) in Sumter. The move comes after a March 1 Administrative Law Court ruling.

"Accountability to the public is one of the fundamental characteristics of public charter schools," says Clay Eaton, Director of Public Relations and Fund Raising for the South Carolina Public Charter School District. "As the authorizing office with oversight requirements, it is the responsibility of the South Carolina Public Charter School District to close a charter school when closure is warranted."

The district says a routine review of MLD's academic records for 2011 and 2012 noted serious irregularities at the school, such as students receiving grades for classes not being offered. The finding prompted additional analysis by personnel at the district, which revealed other significant deficiencies at MLD, ranging from financial issues to system-wide academic shortcomings.

According to the district, 54 end-of-course examination tests were not administered, though such tests are required under state law. The percentage of students at MLD who passed the High School Assessment Program test fell from 55.6% in 2009 to 16.7% in 2011. From 2010 to
2011, the percentage of MLD students in elementary grades who met the state's standards for mathematics, as measured through the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards, fell from 32.4% to 14.3%. In addition, MLD met only one of its adequate yearly progress objectives for academics out of 22 such requirements over a six-year period.

The Board of Trustees of the South Carolina Public Charter School District voted on March 8,
2012 to revoke the charter for MLD effective at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. However, the school appealed to the South Carolina Administrative Law Court, which entitled MLD to a stay of the revocation pending the resolution of the appeal. Almost a year later, Judge Shirley Robinson ruled in favor of the district.

The district says MLD's last day of operations will be Friday, March 15. However, the school's director, Benita Dinkins says the school will continue to operate. "We're not going to bow down," said Dinkins.

Dinkins says she plans to speak with her attorneys to look into appeal options.

The school was located in Bishopville in Lee County but moved in 2012 to a church in Sumter without permission, which was a violation of the school's charter agreement, district officials said.

The school had been using a building owned by the Lee County School District, but was evicted in June when the contract expired.

Approximately 100 students are bused from Lee County to Sumter each day, the director said.

According to Dinkins, the school has a total of 145 students ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade.

"Doing what is best for the students has been central to our approach, every step of the way," said Superintendent Brazell. "Consistent with that approach is not waiting to close the school."

"The students will be better suited in a different learning environment, and we are communicating with the Lee County School District and the Sumter School District to let them know that these students should be reporting to schools in those communities or in some other organized school setting of their parents' choice as of Monday, March 18, 2013," said Brazell.

Dinkins disagrees. "We're going to keep operating," she said "We're fighting for choice for poor children. We'll be here on Monday the 18th."

Like traditional public schools, charter schools do not charge tuition, and charter schools must address the entire state curriculum for all grade levels offered. Students are required to meet all state graduation requirements, and the schools are required to administer all state standardized testing.

All public charter schools are subject to state laws regarding professional licensure for school staff, though in public charter schools, such staff members are at-will employees of the school.

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