UPDATED May 18: Since I wrote about this a few months ago, APS has made good on its threat to sue to stop a Fulton County high school from poaching its students. The lawsuit, filed in Fulton County Superior Court, seeks a judge’s order to stop the practice of what Atlanta school officials call the systematic recruitment of students away from city schools.
The suit would affect about 100 Atlanta students enrolled at Riverwood International Charter School — which sits in Sandy Springs just over Atlanta’s northern boundary. At stake is state funding that follows students when they move from one public school to another.
“We want them to come into compliance with the law,” Atlanta schools spokesman Keith Bromery said.
Here is my original post on this issue:
Atlanta Public Schools is accusing Riverwood International Charter School, a Fulton County school, of recruiting North Atlanta High School, which it maintains violates state law.
It’s a fascinating letter and issue. Take a look at the March 1, 2010, complaint letter below from APS official Sharron M. Pitts, who is also an attorney, to Clara Keith of the DOE.
(The letter can be found on the North Atlanta High Website in the March 5th minutes from a “Coffee Talk” meeting. Those minutes also contain a discussion of the situation. )
Clara J. Keith, Deputy Superintendent, Policy & External Affairs
Georgia Department of Education
Dear Ms. Keith:
I am writing to bring to your attention the recruitment and enrollment practices of Riverwood International Charter School (“Riverwood”). It has come to my attention that approximately sixty of Riverwood’s current students are residents of the City of Atlanta and that they have recently accepted more Atlanta students.
By recruiting and enrolling Atlanta residents, Riverwood is violating Georgia law. The Atlanta Public Schools objects to Riverwood’s recruitment and enrollment practices and hereby formally requests that your office investigate the practices.
Riverwood is a conversion charter high school and the site of Fulton County’s International Studies Magnet Program. Riverwood is located in Sandy Springs, six miles from North Atlanta High School and three miles from Sutton Middle School.
Riverwood has recruited APS students from both Sutton Middle School and North Atlanta High School. Not only has Riverwood enrolled sixty of our students, but we also have specific information from parents who have reported their children being actively recruited by Riverwood.
For example, some parents of Sutton Middle School eighth graders submitted applications for their children to attend ninth grade at Riverwood for the 2009-2010 school year. These parents were assured that Atlanta residents could attend Riverwood for a fee and depending upon space considerations.
Initially, the applications were denied by Riverwood with the explanation that space limitations prevented the admission of out-of-district students. Consequently, these parents sent their children to North Atlanta High School. Then, after the 2009-2010 school year started, these parents were contacted by Riverwood personnel and advised that space was available at Riverwood. In one instance, a Riverwood employee left a parent a voice message saying she was “not sure” whether the family was happy at North Atlanta High School.
These practices are clear violations of Georgia law. Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 20-2066(a)(2), students who reside “outside the school system in which the local charter school is located may not enroll in that local charter school except pursuant to a contractual agreement between the local boards of the school system in which the student resides and the school system in which the local charter school is located.”
There is no such contractual agreement between the Atlanta Board of Education and the Fulton County Board of Education. Accordingly, it appears that Riverwood is improperly enrolling as many as sixty APS students, perhaps more. Without prompt action, that number is likely to grow because Riverwood has received applications from several families of this year’s eighth grade class at Sutton Middle School.
On October 1, 2009, we sent the attached complaint letter and affidavits to Mr. Andrew Broy. Mr. Broy facilitated a telephone conversation between Fulton County’s charter school liaison and their attorney and APS’ attorney and me.
During that conversation, Mr. Broy advised that since there was no existing agreement between the Atlanta Public Schools and Fulton County, city of Atlanta students could not attend Riverwood Charter School pursuant to the law. Thus, despite the indisputable absence of the statutorily required agreement, Riverwood is continually violating Georgia law by enrolling Atlanta residents, and I am calling upon your office to put a stop to this illegal practice. We do not want either district to spend funds litigating this matter and believe that your intervention can resolve it without that recourse.
Additionally, I am calling on your office to examine Riverwood’s flagrant use of admissions criteria. According to information publicly provided by your office, “any student who resides in the school district in which the charter school is located and who submits a timely application may attend a charter school. If the number of applications exceeds the capacity of the school, all applicants will have an equal chance of being admitted through a random selection process or lottery… A charter school cannot have admission criteria.”
While Riverwood purports to automatically admit all high school aged students residing in its primary attendance zone, it nevertheless imposes strict eligibility criteria for admission to its International Studies Magnet Program.
Nothing in Georgia’s Charter Schools Act of 1998, as amended, or the Department of Education’s Rules allows for this bifurcated process, which potentially allows Riverwood to exclude a general admission student in favor of admitting an International Studies student. For example, as mentioned above, several ninth grade students at North Atlanta High School were contacted after the 2009-2010 school year began. These students were informed of available spots at Riverwood.
Upon your investigation, I would be particularly interested to know (1) how many of the accepting APS students were eligible for the International Studies program, and (2) what steps did Riverwood take to determine that no other students from its primary and secondary attendance zones (i.e., Fulton County) wanted to attend Riverwood before the APS students were contacted.
Finally, as APS has already reported to the Georgia High School Association (“GHSA”), we believe that Riverwood’s recruiting practices also violate both the letter and spirit of the GHSA’s Constitution and By-laws. Not only do we suspect that Riverwood is recruiting some of our academically excellent students, we also suspect Riverwood is recruiting some of our talented student athletes. I trust your office will work in concert with GHSA to examine these practices as well.
We believe that it is important to provide the city’s residents with choice, and we provide a wide variety of traditional and charter school options for them. We also believe that all local school systems must adhere to the same rules and standards, and that complying with the law is an important part of giving citizens confidence in our government institutions. It is in that spirit that this complaint is filed..
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or require additional information.
Sharron M. Pitts