Charter school remains closed

By Johnny Jackson

On Aug. 1, dozens of parents and citizens of Riverdale gathered at the front entrance of the Clayton County Public Schools Administrative building in support of the Lewis Academy of Excellence, the county's would-be first charter school.

Then, the charter school requested that the Clayton County Board of Education hold a called meeting to reconsider opening the school on Aug. 22, a response to a unanimous vote earlier on July 21, not to allow the charter school to open for lack of a Certificate of Occupancy.

Officials say without a Certificate of Occupancy that certifies the school is up to code, the charter school cannot open. And that is the case for now.

Ericka Davis, chairman of the board, spoke about her Aug. 2, visit with board members Lois Baines-Hunter and Yolanda Everett to the Lewis Academy of Excellence in Riverdale.

"I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Lewis and people from her staff," Davis said, describing her tour of the charter school with founder Patricia Lewis.

"The reality is, there is a great deal of work that remains to be done," Davis said. "I told her I understood her vision. But the part the board is most concerned about has to do with things most parents take for granted when they walk into a school."

Davis named the school's kitchen, modulars, and intercom and fire protection systems as major points of concern, aside from the school's attractive aesthetics.

"In my opinion, the first thing that should have been done was to make sure that the building was up to code," she said. "Once that was done, then decide to put in desks and chairs.

"Dr. Pulliam said - and I reiterate - if Lewis Academy does well, Clayton County Public Schools do well," Davis said in response to parents' concerns. "What they've got to understand is that we are bound by law to make sure that students are safe. I think it's highly unfair, and I've read some comments by parents, for them to think that we don't care."

"The board and I, we're very much in support of the charter school," said board member Rod Johnson. "I'm very hopeful that Dr. Lewis will procure a Certificate of Occupancy. I believe that Lewis Academy is making strides to obtain their Certificate of Occupancy."

"I believe a part of good governance is not doing what would be politically correct or always what people want you to do, but what is right for you to do," Davis said. "I don't think any of the nine members on this board are going to put children in jeopardy."

"This is not an issue with the board," Johnson said. "This falls to Dr. Lewis and the fire marshal. I think, at this point, it's just a matter of complying with the fire marshal and the ordinances that are in place.

"We've already voted to have a charter school in Clayton County. And I'm very sympathetic to the parents who want their children in the charter school. However, we do have several schools in the area that are ready to receive those children until Lewis Academy is able to take them in."

There is no deadline for when parents or guardians must enroll their students into county schools, said Charles White, coordinator of public affairs and community relations for Clayton County schools.

"We enroll students throughout the year," he said. "Enrollment usually increases the first two weeks of school."

According to White, attendance policies are not effective until students are formally enrolled, but parents should consider what students might miss in school exams and curriculum with the later enrollment.

Additionally, White said that Clayton County Schools has helped parents wanting to homeschool their children.

Riverdale Public works reported no recent building inspections for the Lewis Academy of Excellence.

Lewis and other board members were unavailable for comment in this story.