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Waitlist grows for Lowcountry families during school enrollment freeze

Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 4:08 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 24, 2021 at 5:15 PM EST
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Lowcountry’s only public charter school for kids with learning disabilities has been unable to accept students for nearly two months after being notified it failed to meet requirements.

The Gates School, a new public charter school for students with dyslexia in North Charleston, became the only public charter school in the Lowcountry when it opened its doors for the first time earlier this year.

But the Charter Institute of Erskine, which authorizes the school’s charter, halted enrollment on Oct. 1, notifying the school that it was in non-compliance. In a letter to the school, Erskine Charters cited deficiencies in staffing, specifically staffing a special education teacher, among other things. Erskine Charters put a hold on student enrollment until they deem the school meets their requirements.

Since then, Gates School Board Chair and Founder Stephanie Sams says they have reassigned duties for three special education-certified employees, one of which is the principal of the school.

She also says they are working diligently to hire another special education teacher, but the position is still open.

“We have posted the job on Indeed. We’ve been speaking to local colleges and universities, hoping that we’ll find somebody graduating soon that can come on board,” Sams said. “In the meantime, we have made a good faith effort trying to serve these kids the way that Erskine wants them to be served.”

But nearly two months later, the freeze is still in place, and Sams says the waitlist to get into the school is growing.

“We’re here for children who are struggling in their current schools,” Sams said. “The way that they are being taught if they do in fact have dyslexia, the way they are being taught is just not appropriate for them. It’s imperative that we get these kids in as fast as we can.”

Sams says Gates School staff have made several attempts to reach out to Erskine Charters to further resolve these issues but have received minimal information about the next steps.

Charter Institute Chief of Student Services Celina Patton says based on the information provided by the Gates School, the enrollment freeze will remain in place indefinitely because the school remains in non-compliance.

“The Gates School will remain under an enrollment freeze until it completes the Charter Institute’s mandated corrective actions to remedy the serious deficiencies with the school’s service of students with disabilities,” Patton says. “Continued failure to serve students as required by state and federal laws may result in additional sanctions including permanent closure of the school.

In a letter sent to Gates School, Erskine states:

The School has not hired any appropriately credentialed special education teacher or support staff that will serve the students according to their IEPs. The School did not create or submit schedules that are reflective of all services outlined in every student’s IEP.

An IEP is an individualized education program, which is crafted to make sure a studdent who has a disability receives appropriate instruction and services.

Sams says the enrollment freeze is impacting students and finances at the school, and they are hoping to meet with Erskine Charters as soon as possible.

“We’re looking forward to moving past all this, to sitting down at the table,” Sams said. “We want to do it in an open session. We want parents and the community involved. Everyone’s invested in this school, and so the quicker we move past this situation and get this resolved, the better is it for the kids.”

A date has not been set for their next meeting.

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