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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Parents unhappy about Ben Gamla charter closing

Several parents have written to superintendent Mike Grego to express their displeasure about the abrupt closing of Ben Gamla Charter, the only Hebrew-language public school in Pinellas County.

The small charter in Clearwater was open just a year before its national board, the National Ben Gamla Charter School Foundation, severed ties from the school. Charter board members said they didn't have enough to do with the school; the local board ran it. The school district declined to transfer the charter from the national board to the local one, saying it wasn't standard practice. The result is that Ben Gamla is closed for the 2013/14 school year. About 40 children attended the school.

Parents, who found out in June, now must find last-minute placements for their children.

Carol Farley wrote to Grego, saying "I cannot express to you how unhappy and upsetting your decision has made the Ben Gamla students and families feel. This has left us in a terrible position because of the timing." Farley said her neighborhood school is D-rated. Her other option, she said, is to send her child to private school. Most other charters have waiting lists and the application period for magnet schools closed.

David Ross said he was writing to Grego with "sincere outrage" about the decision. He suggested giving the local board a year in which to apply and get the charter transferred. He also asked that the School Board vote on the issue. Margaret Bressler said she would have sought out other school options if she had known closure was a possibility. She wrote, "This is the school you are closing with so many troubled schools in Pinellas? Give me a break!"

In response to each of the emails, Grego said that "contrary to what was reported in the media" the school district was accepting a voluntary closure from the national board. The short timeline was unavoidable, he said.

"It is unfortunate that we were contacted in such a short timeline; however, we have no choice but to accept the national board’s request," Grego wrote. His email didn't address the option of transferring the charter. (The district told the Times that anyone wanting to run a charter needed to go through the standard process and apply, including Ben Gamla's local board.)

Grego provided families with these options: In addition to the option of enrolling their child in their zoned school, families may request another school where space is available. They also are being encouraged to make a late application to a District Application Program magnet or fundamental school."

[Last modified: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 10:58am]


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