Proposed charter school sues Carmel schools for more than a dollar

(photo courtesy of WFYI)

Organizers of a charter school project tied to a private conservative college have filed a lawsuit in Hamilton County Superior Court against Carmel Clay Schools to settle a dispute over who can use a closed school building.

Carmel Clay Schools closed Orchard Park Elementary last summer after school board members voted to stop using the facility for instruction in June 2018. It was part of the district’s plan to build two new schools elementary.

The district has since used the facility for storage and training and is working with Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation to create new parkland or other types of collaborative use on the site.

But a group organizing a new charter school alleges that Carmel Clay violated the so-called “$1 law” passed by lawmakers in 2011, which gives established charter schools or prospective charters a chance to rent or buy unused buildings for $1. The Valor Classical Academy argues that Carmel Clay failed to inform the state of his “official action to close or no longer use for instruction” the school building.

The attorney general’s office received a complaint in December 2021, saying Carmel Clay failed to notify the state that Orchard Park Elementary would no longer be used after May 2021. But the attorney general’s office found that the district had not violated the law since the building is still in use.

The law

When districts close schools without planning to use the building, they must notify the Indiana Department of Education within 10 days of the decision to close a school building. Before districts can sell or tear them down, charter schools have the option of buying or renting the empty buildings for $1.

If more than one charter school wants the same building, a panel of Indiana Charter School Licensing Authority representatives will decide between the two schools.

A 2021 law change also allows the Indiana Attorney General’s office to handle complaints filed against school districts that fail to comply with the law.

The trial

The lawsuit by Indiana Classical Schools alleges the Carmel Clay School Board triggered the Unused Building Act when it voted in June 2018 to end teaching at Orchard Park Elementary. Indiana Rep. Chris Jeter (R-Fishers), who is also an attorney, represents the Indiana Classical Schools.

The lawsuit asks the court to settle the disagreement between Valor and the district over whether the district should have notified the state that the building was no longer in use.

“Orchard Park is taxpayer owned and no longer used for classroom instruction,” Holly Wilson, founder of Valor, said in a press release. “We would like to return this facility to productive use by opening a classic school that supports parents, students and educators and adds new opportunities and value to this vibrant community.”

District response

Carmel Clay did not notify the state after the school board voted to close the school because the district still uses the facility for storage and for job training.

In a statement Tuesday, the district said it was working with the Carmel Parks Department to find a use for the building.

“The Orchard Park property is an important asset to the neighborhood and we remain pleased to partner with Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation to ensure the future use of the property benefits our entire community,” the statement said. of the district by e-mail. “We are aware of the lawsuit filed by Indiana State Representative Christopher Jeter on behalf of the Indiana Classical Schools Corporation. Response to a complaint to the Indiana Attorney General’s office confirmed that we have been fully compliant with the law regarding the use of our property. CCS will now effectively address the matter through the legal process, if necessary. »

The proposed school

Valor Classical Academy is a proposed K-6 charter school that plans to open for the 2023-2024 school year. It plans to offer a “classic, citizenship-centered education grounded in American heritage and focused on character and virtue,” according to a press release. The school would partner with Hillsdale College, a small conservative liberal arts college in Hillsdale, Michigan.

Valor is seeking charter clearance from the private Grace College in Winona Lake.