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The Arkansas Board of Education voted Thursday to conduct a hearing next month on a proposed open-enrollment charter school in Bentonville that is intended to expand educational and social/emotional services to children who have experienced trauma.

The Hope Academy of Northwest Arkansas -- which will enroll as many as 70 pupils in kindergarten through sixth grade by the 2024-25 school year -- received initial approval from the state's Charter Authorizing Panel in August for opening in the 2020-21 school year.

The state Education Board, however, has the authority to make a final decision on a proposed charter school. The Education Board can either accept the authorizing panel's decision or vote to hold a hearing on a charter application before making a decision.

At issue is the request by the planners of the Hope Academy for a waiver of the School Counseling Improvement Act of 2019 that has since become Arkansas Code Annotated 6-18-2001 et seq. The statute calls, in part, for a comprehensive school counseling program to be implemented by an Arkansas-certified school counselor or an educator working toward licensure in counseling.

The law also requires that sufficient time at each public school be allotted for the school counselor to carry out the duties stated in the comprehensive school counseling plan. Additionally, a school counselor must spend at least 90% of working time during student contact days providing direct and indirect services to students.

Education Board member Ouida Newton of Leola said she was "very concerned" about waiving all provisions law and setting a precedent for other charter schools and traditional school districts to seek a similar waiver.

"Do we want to open that door?" Newton asked and wondered how the school planners will ensure counseling services to students.

Representatives of the school did not attend Thursday's Education Board meeting. Information submitted by school planners to the Department of Education's Division of Elementary and Secondary Education described the plans regarding counseling services.

"Our organization has counseling services in place and will be moving an existing member of staff over to the position of student and family case manager. This staff member has a master's degree in social work and is experienced with case management in educational settings.

"This individual will be charged with carrying out a written plan for a comprehensive school counseling program that will include all components mandated by Act 190 of 2019," the school's submission to the state said.

Hope Academy is the only proposed open-enrollment charter school in the works for the 2020-21 school year. Other organizations submitted applications for charter schools in the 2020-21 charter school application cycle but ultimately withdrew.

Metro on 09/13/2019

Print Headline: Charter school to get hearing

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