NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A controversial charter school network embraced by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee will attempt an end-run around local school boards that overwhelmingly rejected their applications.
Hillsdale College's American Classical Academy filed an appeal Monday with the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission, asking the board to overrule the denial by the Jackson-Madison County Board of Education. Similar appeals are expected to be filed for charter schools in Rutherford County and Clarksville-Montgomery County.
Commission members are appointed by the governor.
The appeal describes the Jackson-Madison County denial as being "politically motivated" and argues that school board members unfairly tried to link them to controversial comments made by Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn about teachers.
The network's charter management organization, American Classical Education (ACE), was established by Hillsdale College following a request by Gov. Lee for the college to set up 50-100 charter schools across the state.
"ACE’s initial board members were affiliated with Hillsdale College," the appeal claims. "But, since the initial founding, we have worked actively to localize the board and ensure alignment with the community. All current board members are residents of Tennessee and only one has any prior affiliation with Hillsdale, having graduated from there in 1977."
But in fact, its application filed with the charter school commission lists the Hillsdale College chief of staff as board chair. Hillsdale's vice president of finance is board treasurer, and its vice president of admissions is board secretary.
In addition, the application acknowledges that American Classical Academy will use Hillsdale's teaching materials, including the highly controversial 1776 curriculum that rewrites the history of the civil rights movement.
Jackson-Madison County School System officials responded in a memo to the commission, calling the appeal "somewhat perplexing and laced with subtle untruths."
"The Charter School Commission would have to ignore its own charter school standards to reverse the fair and impartial decision made by our Board," the memo states.
Following Arnn's comments caught on hidden-camera video obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, some Republican members have suggested that Hillsdale's efforts in Tennessee were "shattered."
But, absent a special session of the legislature, there may be little that critics can do to stop it.
"Once an appeal is received, the Commission has 75 days to review the application, hold a public hearing in the LEA where the applicant applied, and to vote on that appeal," said Chris Ingle, director of external affairs for the commission.
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