POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Feb 25, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 02:05 a.m. HST, Feb 25, 2012
Teachers at Laupahoehoe High and Elementary School have gone to court to appeal the decision by the Board of Education to open the campus as a charter school this fall.
The notice of appeal was filed late Thursday in Circuit Court in Hilo by teachers Robert Beekman and Andrea Wilson as well as the Hawaii State Teachers Association.
It contends that the board acted arbitrarily and capriciously in overruling decisions by the Charter School Review Panel, which had insisted that elections be held for a local school board before the campus open as a charter as promised in its application.
"It's a fundamental principle of democracy that people have the right to vote for those people who make decisions on their behalf, and that has been totally denied to the people of Laupahoehoe," said Beekman, faculty representative for HSTA at Laupahoehoe.
The legal filing said the delay in elections until after the school opens "denies the stakeholders in the school and community from serving on the local school board at the time decisions are being made on the budget, staffing, curriculum and other activities related to the operations of the school and precludes the community-based type of charter school intended by the Legislature."
Meanwhile, preparations are under way to open the charter in July, despite the fact that most teachers are opting to leave the picturesque campus, 25 miles north of Hilo, rather than work for the charter. Laupahoehoe School began the academic year with 236 students in grades kindergarten through 12, but enrollment has declined since then.
The Department of Education has agreed to a request from union President Wil Okabe that teachers be placed at other public schools if they choose, Beekman said. All the classroom teachers at Laupahoehoe have asked to be transferred, he said.
Nicolette Hubbard, chairwoman of the Interim Local School Board for Laupahoehoe Public Charter School, confirmed that teachers will be offered jobs at other DOE schools and that "most of them said they didn't want to stay" with the charter.
Nonetheless, she was hopeful about the school's ability to function without them.
"We have quite a few inquiries from new people interested to be teachers at our school," Hubbard said at a Charter School Review Panel meeting Thursday. "We do not have too much concern about being able to staff the school in time."
The charter hopes to hire an operations director for the school soon but is running behind on that effort, she said.
Although the court action was brought on behalf of teachers, Beekman said their main concern now is for the students and families of Laupahoehoe, who must enroll their children in the charter or transport them at least 15 miles to the nearest elementary school and farther for high school.
"The people were guaranteed that they would have an election, and they were guaranteed that the teachers would be highly qualified teachers," Beekman said. "That is not what they are offering now."
Three members of the Charter School Review Panel resigned in protest over the Board of Education's reversals of their decisions on Laupahoehoe.
At a panel meeting Thursday before the suit was filed, Chairwoman Usha Kotner said she and other members look forward to working with leaders of the charter school.
"I know the relationship between panel leadership and Interim Local School Board has been rocky and sometimes antagonistic, and I am hoping we can all move forward in a collaborative way for the sake of creating an excellent school for the children," Kotner said.