Originally Published: October 18, 2016 5 a.m.
PHOENIX — A small charter school in eastern Arizona is on the brink of closing under an appellate court's decision upholding regulators' decision to shut down the school for not meeting academic performance standards.
Unless the State Board of Charter Schools grants a temporary reprieve, Jefferson academy in Show Low must shut down on Oct. 24.
Jefferson had appealed the board's decision to revoke Jefferson's charter after Jefferson received "D" and "F" letter grades on its achievement profiles over a three-year period and then didn't make improvements demanded by the board.
The Court of Appeals ruled last week that the board has the authority to revoke the school's charter and said courts cannot substitute their judgment for the board's. An order accompanying the ruling said a court-ordered stay of the board's revocation order expires Oct. 24.
However, the board on Monday scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday afternoon to consider Jefferson's fate.
Options the board could consider include allowing the school to remain open through the end of the current semester or the entire school year, said the board's executive director, Whitney Chapa.
"To displace 88 students in the middle of a semester would be very disruptive," Chapa said.
Tina Schaefer, the mother of a 12-year-old seventh-grader attending Jefferson, said it'd be terrible if Jefferson closes, because he's thrived with individualized instruction there after struggling at another school.
"His self-esteem is rising. He's excited about learning again," Schaefer said. "It's been the best thing ever."
Schaefer said her son has mild dyslexia and mild autism, and Jefferson's attorney said about a third of the school's students require special education.
"The trouble is those kids aren't going to easily hit the standards that the charter school board wants...," said the attorney, Leonidas Condos.
Arizona's charter school program has shown steady grown since being launched two decades ago, and Jefferson is now among approximately 535 charter schools operating under 420 contracts with the state.
Charter schools are a type of public school usually established outside the traditional framework of school districts.
Most charters are operated by private entities, but they receive per-student public funding and cannot charge tuition.
Chapa said the board only occasionally revokes schools' charters. Most schools that can't meet state standards or have other problems typically surrender their licenses voluntarily, she said.