Local public charter school Charleston Advancement Academy (CAA)'s James Island campus in a photo from earlier this year | CP file photo

Troubled public charter school Charleston Advancement Academy (CAA) is continuing normal operations and recruiting new students — even though the state revoked its charter in January and a state appellate court dropped a judicial stay on Aug. 31 that allowed it to operate.

“We are open,” CAA director Gary Burgess wrote in a late Thursday email.

But last week, the state Department of Education instructed the school to cease operations because of its lack of a charter. Without a charter, the school isn’t able to award valid credits to students taking courses.

Despite clearly outlined consequences in letters from state officials, the school shows no signs of ceasing operations, as Burgess relayed in a Sept. 13 email to CAA staff: “Nonetheless, we will keep working, we will keep making a difference in the lives of young people, we will keep inviting students to be a part of CAA.” 

Charter revoked in January, leading to a challenge

The South Carolina Public Charter School District’s (SCPCSD) board of trustees voted Jan. 19 to revoke CAA’s charter citing deficient academic performance and questionable financial structure based on state law requirements. CAA leaders challenged the decision, which is still being deliberated in state courts. On June 30, the S.C. Court of Appeals granted a stay to the school, allowing it to remain open while the revocation was still under scrutiny. 

But in an Aug. 28 letter to the appeals court, the SCPCSD wrote, “CAA would be closed today but for the Temporary Stay. Instead, CAA continues opening its doors to vulnerable students while even its own parents and teachers accuse the CAA board and administration of  mismanagement, racism, fraud and failing to report the arrest of a CAA teacher for endangering children. The stay should be lifted and CAA closed before more harm is done.”

The state department said it would be a willing partner in helping to transition CAA students to other school programs.

But the school seems to have remained open and appears to be still enrolling and recruiting new students — despite no longer having a valid charter in South Carolina. A Sept. 12 letter to the school from the SCPCSD refers to an email sent to CAA’s staff from Nadine Deif, chair of the CAA Board of Directors, stating that the school “will be open and operating as normal this week.”

Burgess’ Sept.13 email and the school’s website also mention an open house planned for Sept. 21 that has not been canceled. 

“All CAA staff, including contracted staff, must be informed immediately that the district and [S.C. Department of Education] maintain the position that CAA is operating illegally,” the SCPCSD’s letter says. “CAA does not have authority to operate a charter school in South Carolina. CAA must close and cease all operations immediately. CAA continues operations at its own peril, and at the potential personal peril of the board members, administrators and staff that are complicit in its continued operations.”

Without a valid charter, the school may not be able to credit students for any work completed while enrolled, meaning courses and tests completed after June 30 by CAA students may need to be repeated. Similarly, students who meet graduation requirements while enrolled in CAA may have those credentials voided. 

CAA operated as an alternative charter high school targeted at-risk students who had difficulty finding success at traditional schools. An estimated 200 students are enrolled, many of whom are over age 18.

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