School board asked to consider charter school

By Heather Michon

Citizens hoping to establish a charter school in Fluvanna County pled their case to the school board on Wednesday (March 13).

More specifically, they are requesting approval for a charter school to serve the needs of special education students. 

The LifePrep Charter School initiative would create “a classroom-less public school which would serve students in the environment that is most accessible to them,” said Joy Barresi.

She urged the board to charter the school this spring with a planned opening for the 2025-2026 school year.  “This is your chance to be a hero for a population that desperately needs heroes.”

Sarah VanNuys, who homeschools two children, including a daughter with ADHD, said some children could better “thrive in a classroom-less environment.” Homeschooling allows her daughter to continually “change and adjust,” something that is not possible in a traditional classroom setting.

Reading a statement on behalf of special education researcher Dr. Alan McLucas, Rob Bell said LifePrep could be a “creative solution” within the overburdened district “by utilizing parents as resources, [and] providing appropriate collaboration and support from educational professionals to help them to provide high quality instructional programming at home using evidence-based practices.”

Charter schools are public schools that operate independently under private administrators and governing boards managed by either non-profit or for-profit organizations.

Unlike private schools, charter schools do not charge tuition; instead, the per-pupil tax dollars that would normally go to the local school district goes to the organization.

According to Fluvanna County Public School’s most recent financial disclosure forms, the per-pupil cost in 2024 is projected to be $16,190.

Only the local school board can grant a charter. While they retain some oversight over charter schools, these organizations are less tightly regulated than traditional public schools.

There are currently fewer than 10 charter schools in Virginia.  

Supporters of charter schools argue that they promote innovation and provide learners with opportunities they may not have in a traditional setting. They also argue the schools themselves benefit from having fewer students.

In his statement, McLucas said a special education charter school “has the potential to allow the public school system here in Fluvanna to increase its capacity to meet the needs of children with disabilities.”

Opponents argue that taking tax dollars from the schools and handing them over to private companies inevitably depletes the district of badly needed funds.

“Don’t even entertain it, guys, Fluvanna does not have the money for charter schools,” said Georgianna Joslin, listing off all the items trimmed or reduced in the current budget proposal.

Chair Andrew Pullen (Columbia) said this wasn’t the first time they had heard of LifePrep, but thought it now merited a closer look.

“I would like to hear more about it in next month’s reports,” he said, asking Superintendent Peter Gretz for data and recommendations.

“I don’t want the back and forth on the philosophical issues,” he added. “I just want the facts.”

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