Less than a week ago, Bridget Pelino knew where she wanted her 5-year-old son Nathan to start first grade in August.
After a year of homeschooling using a classical education curriculum, the Mount Airy resident discovered the Frederick Classical Charter School — a proposed school that, until last week, was expected to open in the fall.
Pelino was among the first parents to enroll in the lottery for the school, originally scheduled to take place today.
“I signed up the day it opened,” she said.
But Pelino’s high hopes were crushed last week when she learned that the lottery was cancelled and plans for the new school were put on hold.
“I am incredibly disappointed,” said Pelino, who is considering homeschooling again. “It’s disappointing because it’s such a unique opportunity to have classical education in a school setting.”
Pelino’s son is among more than 470 Frederick County children who have been caught in the middle of the battle over the Frederick Classical Charter School.
Those students were expected to participate in today’s canceled lottery. The school was to admit 260 students.
The proposed charter school — which offers a more traditional, teacher-led approach to instruction than the county’s public schools — was approved by the school board in January.
But plans for the school stalled as founders struggled to find a building and failed to reach an agreement with school officials over the logistics, including construction deadlines, staffing plans and the length of the school’s charter.
While the Board of Education is expected to discuss the matter on Wednesday, advocates say they are not optimistic the school will open in the fall.
“They always find a reason to say ‘no,’” said Tom Neumark, one of the charter school founders.
“They keep moving the goal posts,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that they are making it this difficult.”
Discussion of the Frederick Classical Charter School ended abruptly on March 28 after the majority of school board members voted against the school’s latest building plans.
The proposal called for a 27,000-square-foot building within the Riverside Corporate Park at 8445 Progress Drive. While the basic building was already in existence, the charter school group relied on St. John Properties to construct interior build-outs custom tailored to the school system’s specific requirements.
However, school board members Angie Fish, Donna Crook, Jean Smith and Katie Groth voted against the plan, saying it would put the school’s opening on a compressed schedule, creating problems with staffing, budgeting and providing school technology.
The board’s denial was a blow for charter school advocates, who were already recruiting students and preparing to hire teachers.
Charter advocates were still weighing their options April 4 when they received a letter signed by Fish and Schools Superintendent Theresa Alban directing staff to cancel the lottery and stop preparations to open the school in the 2012-13 school year.
The school will need to plan to open a year later than expected if they want to proceed with new building plans, the letter stated.
Alban said the letter reflects decisions made March 28, when board members voted three times against the facility plans for the school.
“They had no facility to open in 2012,” Alban said. “I had to direct staff not to proceed.”
The letter however surprised board members Brad Young and April Miller who did not think the board had effectively decided to postpone the opening of the school by a year.
“I had no knowledge of the letter,” Miller said. “I was a bit confused about how the vote on the facility was denied because of staffing.”
Young agreed and said the board did not get a chance to discuss the next steps for the charter school.
“This is not my interpretation of what happened at that meeting,” he said.
While the charter school is not on the agenda for the board Wednesday meeting, Young said he plans to bring it up for discussion so charter school advocates understand how to proceed.
Young would need three votes to add an item to the board’s agenda on Wednesday, and was confident that Miller and board member James Reeder Jr. would support him. Young, Miller and Reeder were the three board members who voted in support of the school building plans.
While the outcome of the board’s next meeting is still unclear, future decisions for the school may come too late for some families.
Neil Sood, a Frederick resident, said he hoped that his oldest child could start kindergarten at the Frederick Classical Charter School. But after the March 28 school board meeting, Sood and his wife were so disappointed that they have decided to move to Middletown where they can find a better public school option for their children.
“There is not an incentive for us to continue to contribute to the city of Frederick,” Sood said. “We thought that things were finally working out. But it’s time to move away from incompetence.”