After nearly four months of deliberation and debate the Loudoun County School Board officially voted to deny the charter school application for the Loudoun County Math and IT Academy.
In an 8-1 vote, the board emphatically opposed the application at the Feb. 25 School Board meeting.
Members largely cited an incomplete curriculum, deficiencies in management, budgetary issues and lack of community support as the source of their votes.
“We had a trickling of support at the end, but this has been a process,” School Board Vice Chariman Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) said. “It troubles me that there's a lack of community support.”
Jennifer Bergel (Catoctin) added, “There is interest in charter schools. There is not interest in this charter school.”
School Board members also noted that the founding board for the LMITA was composed primarily of engineers with little education background; Kevin Kuesters (Broad Run), who moved to deny the application, noted that the financial officer has no accounting experience.
Bill Fox (Leesburg) was the lone dissident in the vote.
“I don't see anything gained by making the applicant start from scratch,” Fox said. “I'd like to see them get to work, come back and then have us vote on it.”
Twenty-seven people attended the meeting to speak about the charter school, with 15 opposing the academy, many for the same reasons as the board.
“My opposition is based on the application. They can't show or demonstrate support for this school,” Gil St. John said to the board. “They have an inability to answer basic questions … Are you convinced that the curriculum in areas other than IT is the best?”
Some opponents of the school were troubled with the connection to Fetullah Gulen, a leader of the “Gulen Movement.” Gulen is linked to charter schools across the country and critics accused the schools of importing teachers from Turkey and siphoning money from the school to Turkish groups. These criticisms were met with charges of Islamophobia and bigotry from supporters of the school.
“I don't think this should be rejected just because Turkey doesn't have a brand manufacturing cell phones,” said Mustafa Sahin, a member of the LMITA board.
Proponents of the application mainly cited a desperate need for STEM education, as the job market struggles to fill positions that require computer specialization.
The application was started by Loudoun parents Ali Gokce and Fatih Kandil, who sought to build a 575 students school for sixth to twelfth graders that focuses on math and technology. The proposed school was to be modeled after the Chesapeake Science Point charter school in Anne Arundel County.
The process has been a turbulent one for the LMITA, which passed the Virginia Board of Education in July. Their troubles began at the local level, where the county questioned the completeness of the application and the feasibility of opening the school in the fall of 2013.
In December, a select committee refused to recommend the charter school application for full approval. The LMITA then requested a three-month freeze in the application process in January, which was denied by a 6-3 School Board vote. A public hearing Feb. 21 featured 23 speakers; just three spoke in favor of the proposed school.
Members of the board were quick to note that they weren't opposed to charter schools as a whole, and praised the applicants for their efforts and patience through the process, calling this first application a learning experience for everyone.
But they did note that charter school applications will have to be more thorough and able to withstand tight scrutiny.
“Charter schools serve two purposes,” Kuesters said. “The first is to fix failing schools. The second is to develop new ways to teach kids. It must be a better way.”
The founders of the LMITA have 60 days to appeal the decision and are allowed to submit an amended application based on the reasons for denial submitted by the School Board.