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Rutherford County school board rejects Hillsdale charter school pushed by Tennessee governor

Posted: 9:36 PM, Jul 18, 2022
Updated: 2022-07-19 00:22:44-04
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MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — The controversial charter school network invited by Gov. Bill Lee to Tennessee ran into trouble Monday night before the Rutherford County school board.

The Board of Education voted 6-1 to reject the application by American Classical Academy to open one of its privately operated charter schools in the Murfreesboro area.

That group is affiliated with Hillsdale College, whose president was recently caught on hidden camera badmouthing teachers and the colleges that train them.

Board chair Tiffany Johnson said the people who would have run the school had privately tried to distance themselves from Hillsdale and those remarks, but they decided not to show up to defend themselves.

"The comments that were made by the president of Hillsdale were deeply egregious," Johnson told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

"We have wonderful teachers, remarkable educators. We have a fantastic system. What I saw, I didn't like — and I gave them an opportunity to address them and lay out for us that they were not a part of those comments. So I had a commitment until shortly before the meeting that they were going to be here to address the board."

American Classical Academy could now appeal to the Tennessee Public Charter Commission, which has the authority to override local school boards.

A review committee had recommended rejection of the application based on a number of factors, including lack of appropriate detail about how the school would serve special-education students and English language learners.

The group amended its application to distinguish itself from Hillsdale College, but reviewers concluded "the separation appears to be superficial."

"The ties to Hillsdale have become increasingly problematic and heightened our review committee’s concerns of applicant intent due to comments recently made by Hillsdale’s president, Larry Arnn,." reviewers wrote.

"Following the submission of scores, members of the RCS review committee have expressed serious concerns about Dr. Arnn’s comments regarding teacher qualifications and education, as it brings into question the applicant’s ability or interest in recruiting licensed teachers."

The group faces another vote Tuesday night before the Clarksville-Montgomery County school board.

They lost a similar vote last week before the Madison County board in Jackson.

Meanwhile, the Rutherford County School Board did approve an application for Empower Academy, a Montessori-style K-8 charter school focused on individualized learning.

The new school will be located in the Smyrna-La Vergne area with plans to open in fall 2023.

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