District Again To Hear Plan For Latino Charter School

The Hispanic American organization, rejected 5-4 in October, hopes to sway just one more board member.

The Allentown School Board turned down the proposal once, but proponents of a charter school targeting at-risk Latino students will ask the board to reconsider tonight.

The Hispanic American Organization, which is sponsoring the proposed Roberto Clemente charter, needs to sway only one board member.

In October, the board voted 5-4 against the HAO’s proposal. It was the third charter plan to come before the board and the third to be denied.

The board cited six reasons for rejecting the HAO’s plan to target poor Latino students who are at risk of dropping out of school.

Board President James LeVan said he voted against it because the bilingual school would promote segregation. The Hispanic Political Caucus, a small group of volunteers who register Latinos to vote, opposed the plan for the same reason.

While the Clemente school would teach students in English and Spanish, instruction primarily would be in English, the HAO said in a December response to the board’s rejection. There would be no requirement for students entering to be bilingual but they would be expected to speak fluently in two languages by graduation.

“Due to Allentown School District’s own demographics of their at-risk students, the charter school anticipates that it will have a substantial number of Hispanic students. However, it will not be and is not intended to be solely a Latino school, but is expected to have a diverse and multi-cultural population,” the HAO said in its response.

If approved, the school would open at 711 Chew St. in September 2000, a year later than expected, to 100 students in grades 6-10. If denied, the HAO plans to appeal to the state Department of Education, which will not have a charter school review board in place until July.

The Allentown board hasn’t been shy about sending charter schools packing. It twice rejected proposals for the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts and the Vitalistic Therapeutic Charter School of the Lehigh Valley.

Among the reasons for rejecting the Clemente school, the board said the charter would not provide opportunities beyond what’s currently offered in the district. The school board also was confused about the criteria for admission to the school.

The HAO said the school would provide expanded opportunities through alliances with colleges and businesses in the area. It also would implement a teacher exchange program with colleges in Puerto Rico and a visiting minority scholars program.

As for selection criteria, the school would follow the state’s charter school law, which prohibits schools from selecting students on the basis of academic achievement, race, religion or ethnicity.

The school would mandate parental involvement, but would not reject a student for lack of it. If necessary, the school would match a student with an adult mentor.

The board was concerned that revenue for the Clemente school would have to come solely from the Allentown district. The school would not accept students from other districts. State aid that would have funded the student in the Allentown district would be shifted to the charter school under state law.

HAO intends to pursue grants for the program. HAO also is kicking in money by renovating its headquarters for the school’s use. The HAO would move to a building it owns on S. 4th Street.

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