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Teachers group files suit over charter school in Alabama

By KIM CHANDLERAugust 3, 2019

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The state teachers lobby filed a fraud lawsuit Friday against the creators of a planned charter school in south Alabama accusing them of misleading a state commission about their finances and level of community support.

The lawsuit filed by the Washington County chapter of the Alabama Education Association seeks to block public funds from going to Woodland Preparatory school in Washington County.

“The citizens of Washington County do not want this school,” AEA Associate Executive Director Theron Stokes said in a press conference.

The lawsuit claims the planned charter school does not have significant support from the community, as required by law, and is a front for a private education company. A lawyer representing Woodland Prep disputed the accusations and said local supporters wanted a school choice option because of concerns about test scores at traditional public schools in the county.

“While we’ve been trying to give students and parents an option for a better education, the opposition in Washington County has been led by teachers afraid of losing their jobs and union bosses who fear losing union dues,” a statement released on behalf of Woodland Prep said.

The suit names Washington County Students First, the locally incorporated group, that applied to start the school, and consultant Soner Tarim and his company Unity School Services who were hired by to operate Woodland Prep.

Stokes said they believe that the group who applied to open the school is a front for Tarim. “We feel like this is an attempt from someone who wants to get a payday,” Stokes said.

Woodland Prep’s statement said the school’s board picked Tarim “to bring about an innovative and challenging educational opportunity” to students in Washington County.

The Alabama Public Charter School Commission gave the permission to open the charter school. The approval came despite that the National Association of Charter School Authorizers found the application “does not meet the standard for approval,” according to the lawsuit.

Woodland Prep was supposed to open this month but received an extension.

The lawsuit also accused the school of improperly seeking students from Mississippi to attend the school that would be funded with Alabama tax dollars. Woodland Prep denied that but said it has been targeting parents from Washington County who are currently sending their children to schools in Mississippi “in hopes of a better education.”

Public charter schools are schools that receive government funds but operate independently. Alabama lawmakers authorized the creation of charter schools in 2015. A few have opened but more are planned.

Stokes said AEA is not opposed to all charter schools.

“This is not about charter schools. This is about bad charter schools,” said Tom Loper, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the case.

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