N. Charleston charter school ordered to close after violations, noncompliance

A charter school in North Charleston will close its doors after this school year following a history of violations and instances of noncompliance.
Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 4:33 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 24, 2023 at 6:30 PM EDT
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A charter school in North Charleston will close its doors after this school year following a history of violations and instances of noncompliance, according to the Charter Institute at Erskine.

Gates School has been in operation since August of 2021, “founded to serve students with a primary diagnosis of dyslexia,” according to the school’s website.

The Charter Institute at Erskine’s Board of Directors, tasked with authorizing charter schools in South Carolina, voted Monday to revoke the charter of Gates School “due to systemic findings of noncompliance of state and federal special education law.”

The board had previously met Mar. 16, 2022 and voted to revoke Gates School’s charter for the same reason, but an appeal hearing from the school gave them a second chance at keeping their doors open and remedying “it’s ongoing noncompliance,” the Institute says.

Live 5 has previously reported on the school’s history of noncompliance, including when the Charter Institute at Erskine paused enrollment just months after the school’s opening due to staffing shortages, specifically special education teachers.

“The Board and our District are tasked with ensuring that every student’s rights are protected under the law and that our schools are complying with all legal and regulatory requirements imposed by our federal and state governments,” Dr. Steven Adamson, President of Erskine College and Chairman of the Charter Institute Board, said. “As we move forward, the Institute and the Board are committed to ensuring a smooth transition.”

As of April 24, 2023, about 95 students were enrolled at Gates School, according to the Charter Institute at Erskine. The Institute says it will notify parents of the closure and work with families to “provide a smooth transition for their students.”

Ashley Epperson, Director of Communications for the Charter Institute at Erskine, provided this statement regarding the school’s violations:

The Gates School’s history of noncompliance has been extensive. As a result of Gates School’s systemic noncompliance, their students with disabilities are owed more than 220,000 minutes of special education services that the school was required by law to provide. The Charter Institute, in an attempt to remedy this systemic special education noncompliance, provided ongoing support, trainings, and site visits to the school. In an effort to impress upon the administration of Gates School the seriousness of these matters, the Institute placed multiple sanctions on the school from 2021-2023, including the issuance of multiple notices of noncompliance, multiple corrective action plans, and multiple enrollment freezes.

Stephanie Sams, Founding Board Chair for Gates School issued the following statement after Monday’s announcement:

Gates School community is heartbroken and disappointed that the Charter Institute at Erskine Board disregarded the information from special education compliance experts that no statutory grounds for revocation exist. Gates School has always been dedicated to appropriate service and exceptional instruction and experiences for our dyslexic learners.  Our focus will always remain on them and their best next steps. The Gates School Board and community will be taking under consideration those best next steps although I have been told that parents have already filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights.

The Charter Institute at Erskine says this is the first charter the board has revoked. Over the past decade, 14 charter schools have been closed in South Carolina.

The Charter Institute at Erskine is compiling a full list of Gates School’s violations and instances of noncompliance.

Officials with Gates School have yet to respond to a request for comment.