The Christina School Board voted Tuesday to officially oppose the proposed opening of Freire Charter School near Newark.
The measure, introduced by board member Claire O’Neal, was approved by a 4-2 vote.
“This opposition is consistent with the board’s approved 2021 legislative priorities, requesting a moratorium on the approval of any new charter school seats, expansions or new schools including satellite campuses,” O’Neal said.
Freire Charter School is undergoing the application process to the Department of Education to establish a high school on Chapman Road near Newark. Freire, which started in Philadelphia in 1999 and also has a school in Wilmington, focuses on preparing students for college, targeting students who may not have the financial means to go to a private school or have the test scores to get into a more selective charter school.
Tuesday’s vote came a month after the Christina board asked the state legislature to impose a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools and the expansion of existing charter schools. The moratorium would be temporary, lasting until the proposals of the Redding Consortium and the Wilmington Learning Collaborative are complete.
The proposed moratorium, supported by the Newark branch of the NAACP and the Friends of Christina School District, is intended to keep the education landscape of the area stable to help ensure the changes called for by Redding and the collaborative run smoothly.
Board member Monica Moriak said that although she likes the idea of charter schools such as the Las Americas ASPIRA Academy that offer unique programs, she was concerned about the number of high schools in the Newark area.
“I don’t see a benefit to more choices at this point, especially in such a small area,” Moriak said.
Board president Keeley Powell said there are currently enough charter options. There are two charter high school options in the Newark area alone, Las Americas ASPIRA Academy and Newark Charter School.
“There is no lack of charter options in this district,” Powell, said. “There are so many seats open.”
Powell said that the creation of new charter schools in the suburbs would make it harder to create a new public high school in Wilmington, something that has been called for as part of the Wilmington Learning Collaborative.
“It sounded like in discussions that this group agreed that there could be or should be a traditional public high school option in Wilmington, but the counter argument we got was you have too many seats in the suburbs,” Powell said.
While Christina schools have decreased in enrollment, schools like Newark Charter have hundreds of students on their waiting list.
Board members Donald Patton and Naveed Baqir voted against opposing Freire.
Patton said that families have the right to choose where they want to send their children and argued that there is no real connection between the proposed moratorium and the work of the collaborative and Redding Commission.
“I don’t think the district can speak for families,” Patton said. “I think families have the right to choose wherever they want to send their kids.”
He said the district should focus on improving the district to make it more attractive to students.
Patton has previous experience working with charter schools, most recently serving as the vice chairperson of the Las Americas ASPIRA Academy Board of Directors. Patton was also the previous president of the now-defunct Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security Charter School Board.
Baqir said the school district should focus more on outreach to parents, students and legislators to increase the awareness of the good things that the school district does, rather than opposing Freire.
“All this does is bring us bad press that we are trying to pass something that may limit parent choice,” Baqir, said. “When we have all the solutions right in front of us.”
The Delaware Charter School Network, though it supports the Wilmington Learning Collaborative, opposes the prospect of a temporary moratorium, arguing that it would unnecessarily restrict students’ educational opportunities.
In 2021, Christina lost 5,962 to charter schools and 1,267 other students choiced into other traditional public schools. Superintendent Dan Shelton said a smaller student body, caused by students pursuing other options has a negative impact on the number of programs that the district can offer.
The Wilmington Learning Collaborative, created by Gov. John Carney, is intended to focus on creating a unified program between the schools in the City of Wilmington, which are currently split between three districts, Red Clay, Christina, and Brandywine. The collaborative currently does not include a high school component.
In 2015, the legislature passed a moratorium on charter schools in the City of Wilmington until the state developed a strategic plan for the number of charter, district, and vocational-technical schools in the state. The moratorium expired in 2018, but no strategic plan was ever written.