A longtime vocal proponent of the Voice Charter School in Long Island City, Community Education Council 30 member Valarie LaMour was looking forward to her son potentially being selected to attend kindergarten at the school that focuses on music education.
However, when she recently went to fill out an application, she was taken by surprise to learn that her son was ineligible to apply because Voice had changed its admissions policy and was no longer considering students for kindergarten who were born later in the year. Irate to discover this, LaMour said that the move would allow the school to accept older students and leave the younger, potentially more immature students to attend area public institutions.
“I find this completely wrong,” LaMour said at a CEC 30 meeting in Long Island City on Monday night. “Charter schools are supposed to be giving our children the choice to go to their schools.”
After LaMour contacted Voice’s principal, the charter’s board decided to overturn its original decision and implemented the same admissions policy it had before — which allows children born up until the end of the year to apply to kindergarten, just as traditional public schools do.
“We decided we didn’t want to make that change, though we may look at it in the future,” said Bob de Luna, a member of Voice’s board. “It’s not as though our discussions about them are private. Our board meetings are all open to the public. Parents are on our board. It’s not as though the discussion had been without parental conversation.”
De Luna said the school had originally considered changing the cutoff date because officials noticed “that some of our younger students were more likely to have problems achieving the standards to advance than we would’ve liked.”
While CEC 30 members said while they were pleased Voice heeded residents’ concerns, they said the fact that it could quietly overhaul its admissions process is a red flag in regards to the entire charter system and worried that a charter school anywhere in the city could revamp policy without notifying groups like a community education council.
Under state law, if a charter school wants to change its admission policy, it must receive approval from the state education commissioner. Something like a change to admission would not require a formal charter revision hearing.
De Luna stressed that the school would not have been allowed to unilaterally change its admissions process and would need a stamp of approval from the state.
Still, because of their concerns, CEC 30 members are considering drafting a proposal that would encourage charter schools that accept public funds, as Voice does, to notify the public when they are making policy changes.
LaMour also emphasized that charter schools are often colocated in buildings that house public schools, and said she believes the two should have the same admissions criteria. Voice, for example, runs out of the same building as PS 111.
“It seems to me there’s a fundamental question of fairness and equality,” CEC 30 President Isaac Carmignani said.