Coastal Montessori School charter advances

Facility could open in 2012

gvasselli@thesunnews.comJune 30, 2011 

The Coastal Montessori Charter School, a proposed charter school to serve Georgetown County students in grades 1 through 6, has taken another step towards opening its doors.

The school was certified by the South Carolina Department of Education's Charter Schools Advisory Committee Tuesday, meaning it can now seek final approval from the Georgetown County Board of Education.

"We are looking forward to focusing on the District now," said Kristin Bohan, the chairwoman of Coastal Montessori's planning committee. "Satisfying the state is essential, but Georgetown County is our home. Our local school board and district officials need to have an opportunity to critique our plan and to ensure it fits with the district's overall mission."

But it wasn't as if approval from the state committee was guaranteed.

Bohan said Coastal Montessori's first hearing was on May 24 and the committee had several suggestions for ways to improve the school's plan.

For example, she said they asked that the written plan more specifically address how students with special needs would be accommodated.

"Some schools at that point just get denied," Bohan said. "They could have said sorry, try again next year."

Coastal Leadership Academy, a proposed Horry County Charter School, was denied by the committee earlier this year because of questions over its application.

But Bohan said the Coastal Montessori group had the opportunity to address the committee's questions in its application through supplemental documents.

"They said essentially here are some things we think you can correct and resubmit it ... just to make sure we have all of our Is dotted," Bohan said.

The revised plan was turned in on June 21 and Bohan, and other members of the planning committee met with the committee again on Tuesday where they were given certification.

"We are obviously very excited to have made it this far. It's a wonderful affirmation to know we have satisfied the state's requirements," said Bohan. But they are "acutely aware of the work that is still in front of us. Having a good plan is one thing. Executing it is another."

Before needing to execute the plan, however, the school will have to be approved by the Georgetown County School Board.

According to state law, once it receives official written notification from the state department of education the district has 30 days make its decision on the school's charter application. If there is no ruling within thirty days, the application is considered approved.

But, Bohan said that 30-day window could be extended to give the U.S. Department of Justice or the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights time to also review the application to see if it affects any civil rights laws.

In 1997, the Georgetown board of education entered into a Consent Decree with the U.S. Department of Justice which outlined further steps to be taken to ensure the desegregation of the district, and as a result there are strict attendance zones for all students of the county.

She said the Justice Department is aware that a charter school is hoping to form in Georgetown County, but she isn't sure how the process will work.

"We're not sure what will happen first," she said. "Once the district receives the application it will could send it to them first before scheduling its own hearing."

If approved by the school district the school, which seeks to educate students through the Montessori method of teaching, would be scheduled to open in August of 2012.

Contact GINA VASSELLI at 443-2434.

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