Permit Issue Forces Construction Delay Of New Brockton Charter School

BROCKTON (CBS) — Dawn McKinley packed up the minivan for a Labor Day weekend outing on Friday, finally knowing where her seventh-grader Morgan will be attending class next week.

“We just want to start learning,” McKinley said. “We don’t really care about the location.”

Until recently, the Randolph mom thought her daughter would be attending a brand-new charter school at a location in Brockton. However, a quick look at the intended site of New Heights Charter School shows it is nowhere close to being ready for students and teachers.

Dawn McKinley and her daughter Morgan. (WBZ)

Dawn McKinley and her daughter Morgan. (WBZ)

Last week, city inspectors slapped “stop work” orders on the windows of the site at 1690 Main Street, saying workers were building a school with no permits.

“It’s a big mistake, especially when you are talking about students in a school,” said Brockton building commissioner Jim Casieri. “There is no way to ensure the safety of anyone in that building without proper permitting and inspections.”

The new Brockton charter school is incomplete for the school year. (WBZ)

The new Brockton charter school is incomplete for the school year. (WBZ)

On Friday, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner Mitchell Chester gave approval for New Heights Charter School to begin the school year at a temporary location on September 8.

The new location in Norwood is roughly 22 miles away. According to the school’s website, free bus transportation will still be provided to students.

Executive director Omari Walker did not respond to WBZ phone and email messages. When reached by phone on Friday, head of school Janice Manning would only say, “no comment.”

Craig Pina, a vocal charter school opponent who has two kids in Brockton’s public system, worries the last-minute change could cause some parents to remove their kids from New Heights and affect class sizes at the middle schools.

Pina, who frequently posts about the issue on a Facebook page, believes the permit problem foreshadows larger issues.

“This is more than growing pains,” Pina said. “It just goes to show they are a real fly-by-night, seat-of-the-pants operation and I don’t think they should be educating students.

Brockton district spokeswoman Michele Bolton said employees have been fielding a lot of recent calls from parents who are inquiring about re-enrolling their kids.

“It is a state of flux,” Bolton said. “We are trying to focus on opening schools for 18,000 students on Tuesday.”

DESE is expecting around 300 kids to attend New Heights when it opens next week.

According to the commissioner’s letter, the approval to operate in Norwood comes with a number of conditions.

Charter school leaders will need to provide the state with weekly attendance reports, monthly financial reports, and move into the intended Brockton location no later than January 3, 2017.

Because of the delayed opening, the charter school will also need to provide free child care for parents on September 6 and 7.

“Failure to meet these conditions may result in my imposing additional conditions or a recommendation to place New Heights Charter School on probation or revoke its charter,” Chester wrote.

Despite the controversy, McKinley dismisses the critics and remains confident the charter school will give her daughter the best opportunity to learn.

“Permits are minor. My child’s mind is at risk,” McKinley said. “Going to Norwood is fine. We want to get this education going.”

Ryan Kath can be reached at rkath@cbs.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

 

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