York City charter school argues its case at Commonwealth Court

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Mar 11, 2014 3:44 AM

(Harrisburg) -- A York City charter school fighting to keep its doors open has taken its case to the Commonwealth Court. Its lawyer faced pointed questioning from judges.

The York City School District has ordered New Hope Charter School to close by the end of the school year, but the operator argues the legal basis is shaky.


Photo by Ben Allen/witf

The three presiding judges at the Commonwealth Court hearing pushed both sides on their arguments, but President Judge Dan Pelligrini got visibly frustrated with answers from New Hope's attorney, Robert O'Donnell. Three times he asked him if the current test scores are not reason to revoke a charter, what would be a better solution?

Three times, he didn't get an answer.

"You have to look at so many different things, you can't look at that in a vaccum," says New Hope's Director of Community Partnerships, Kiersten Sutton.

"You have to look at graduation rates, attendance rates. And you have to look at the students over a long period of time, are they making progress? That was very clear from the court hearing today: our kids are making progress."

The panel of judges did acknowledge the gains in math test scores, but pointed to just a one percent improvement in five years for reading scores.

New Hope also faces allegations of a questionable management structure, but O'Donnell says the management contracts were approved by officials.

One thing President Judge Dan Pelligrini made clear: the state's charter school law is a mess. Both sides agreed.

"We've already been reaching out to Senators and saying, 'Hey from an education perspective, and from a charter perspective, this is the stuff you need to have in your legislation to make it fair and equitable for all charters so that no other charter like us is in this position again,'" says Sutton.

New Hope serves about 800 students in grades 5-12.

About 75 students packed the courtroom, wearing shirts that said "Save New Hope" on one side, and "Save My Life" on the other.

A decision is expected within a month, and New Hope's lawyer says he does not expect to appeal the decision.

The district did not comment after the hearing.

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