Congressman Richie Neal flanked by PVCIC Executive Director Rich Alcorn and his wife Principal Kathy Wang. Kira center front (black t-shirt)
So after almost four years my 9-year-old daughter Kira said her goodbyes last Friday to the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, originally founded in Amherst almost four years ago and now located in Hadley, as she will transfer back to Crocker Farm Elementary School only a half-mile from our home.
Today Kira left for her homeland with her mother for a month. Since this week is vacation week she will be missing three weeks of school. Apparently Charter Schools have a harder time granting "extended leaves" or "alternative education opportunities" than their public school counterparts.
After 5 days of school absence Kira would have been considered "absent without leave" and summarily unenrolled from the Charter School. My education oriented Ph.D wife, naturally, plans to hire a private, native Chinese tutor (A Grad Student from an elite University) the entire time Kira is in her homeland to keep up with her, you know, Chinese--although it's hard not to when you will need it every day simply to get around.
We had also assumed Kira (currently an A student) could keep up with homework assignments via email and Skype. But according to Barry Barnett, Coordinator of Federal Programs for the DOE Charter School Office in an email to Principal Kathy Wang:
"When the child leaves for a period of time greater than your enrollment policy allows s/he is disenrolled from your charter school." Ouch!
He then goes on to (sort of) explain, "Only school committees can approve home schooling, charter schools cannot. If, aside from home schooling the parent wants to try to obtain permission for any other form of ongoing education for their child, whatever that might be, they would need to pursue that with the school committee of the town in which they reside. The parent may also wish to consult with an attorney in this matter."
Of course what I then considered a simple matter easily accomplished--going before the venerable Amherst School Committee for permission (although I always get a tad nervous when a high ranking state official suggests I may also want to "consult with an attorney") --quickly became a classic Catch 22.
The Amherst School Committee could approve--and I'm sure would have--Kira's three week absence so that she would not be considered according to state law AWOL, resulting in her parents arrest, however she would still be "disenrolled" from the Charter School.
Charter Schools are indeed less regulated than their tradition public school counterparts and as result that usually works for the betterment of the kids.
This case, however, is an exception.