Despite a possible second rejection by the West Chester Area School Board, supporters of the Valley Forge Classical Academy, a proposed charter school, say they plan to forge ahead.
After several years of development, proponents of a classical charter school in the West Chester Area School District filed their proposal last year, only to have it rejected by the school board in August. They reapplied in December but say another rejection is likely later this month.
VFCA Board President Jen MacFarland gave a presentation on the new charter at a July 2023 meeting. The school would use a curriculum developed by Hillsdale College that emphasizes classic literature, Singapore Math, Latin, and phonics. The history program would be Hillsdale’s 1776 curriculum, which teaches both good and bad things that happened in America.
At that same meeting, Sandra Schaal of the West Chester NAACP said she opposed the charter school. Schaal said her organization had “great concerns” that the curriculum was “too Eurocentric” and emphasized American exceptionalism. Other concerns were that kids would bring brown bag lunches that poor children might not be able to afford and that students were required to have “traditional” hairstyles.
Other speakers said they thought the school might discriminate against LGBTQ students, and some said the school would teach Christianity. McFarland denied those contentions.
In a recent Facebook post to supporters, VFCA board members MacFarland, Charlie Beatty, Shelley Sanders, and Michael Peterson said they plan to continue to focus “on our end goal of providing a high-quality, challenging academic program for children and parents.”
If the West Chester board again denies the charter, the VFCA board plans to appeal to the State Charter Appeals Board for a hearing. West Chester rejected the charter proposal last August.
“We re-submitted the charter application on Dec. 1, 2023,” said MacFarland. “Per the Charter School Law, the district has 45 days to review and vote on the application. We anticipate that they will deny (it) again, and that will require us to solicit 1,500 or more signatures from supporters in the WCASD to be able to appeal to the state Charter Appeals Board for approval. We would have 60 days to get the signatures.”
A meeting is scheduled for Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. at the Spellman Education Center (782 Springdale Drive, Exton, PA 19341).
She added, “We will continue to move forward and make every effort to ensure that Valley Forge Classical Academy opens its doors with full enrollment in the fall of 2024.”
Charter schools offer students alternatives to public schools and are supported by tax dollars, so students do not pay tuition.
In a press release after the August rejection, West Chester stated it had comprehensively reviewed and evaluated the application and heard comments from the public.
“Ensuring the highest quality of education for our students is our utmost priority,” stated Sue Tiernan, WCASD Board of Directors President. “The decision to deny Valley Forge Classical Academy’s charter application was made after careful evaluation of the application’s alignment with Pennsylvania’s educational goals and standards and the charter school’s ability to educate to the caliber our community expects.”
The release added, “The board acknowledges the effort invested by VFCACS in the application process and commends the commitment to education exhibited by the applicant. The decision, however, was made based on the determination that the charter application did not fully align with the educational needs of the community and established criteria in Pennsylvania and the district’s charter policy.”
The idea of a charter school in the suburban district faced pushback during public hearings.
If the West Chester board again denies its application, the VFCA board will ask supporters to field petitions on behalf of the proposed charter school.
“We are committed to seeing this through, but we need YOU [emphasis original]. Working together, we can make this school a reality for your kids!” the VFCA board said on Facebook.
“For parents, taxpayers, and most of all our students, everyone should support having multiple good school options so that every child has a chance to succeed. VFCA is using a proven curriculum—and once opened, it will help improve the quality of education for everyone in the great West Chester area.”
“Politicians should stop worrying about the name on the school and focus on whether there are good school options so that parents can find a good school—and, all schools will be accountable to parents and taxpayers,” said Guy Ciarrocchi. Ciarrocchi is the former CEO of the Chester County Chamber and serves as a volunteer board member of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.