Esmeralda Huerta is one semester away from earning her high school diploma, but as summer months wind down, she doesn’t currently have a school to go to.
She expected to return to Kairos Academy in West Valley City on August 21. But the school’s closure last month by the State Charter School Board placed Huerta, her classmates, and the school faculty and staff in academic and professional limbo.
“I hope the school opens,” Huerta said. ”But I am looking for other options as well.”
Kairos, a charter school geared toward pregnant teens and young mothers, has appealed its closure to the Utah Board of Education, after charter school board members ordered it shut over a host of academic and financial concerns.
The appeal will be the final say on Kairos’ continued existence, but policy and procedure dictate a hearing by a panel of board members, followed by a vote of the full state school board.
A hearing is currently being scheduled, school board spokeswoman Emilie Wheeler said Friday. But the full board is next scheduled to meet on September 8, making mid-September the earliest Kairos could hope to reopen, if the school is allowed to reopen at all.
“I was supposed to graduate in December,” Huerta said. “If they open in September, then I don’t have that window open long enough to get the credits.”
Julie Adamic, chairwoman of the school’s governing board, said school administrators are discussing options for either postponing the school year or assisting students in finding other educational options.
“The process is taking some time,” Adamic said. ”It does look like we are probably going to have a late start date.”
Schools are required to hold classes for a minimum of 180 days and 990 hours each year. Adamic said Kairos would be able to meet those requirements by extending the school year into June.
But the Utah Board of Education is not required to take action during its next meeting, and the deliberative body could elect to postpone a vote for further consideration.
“We would hope that if we don’t make it by the September 8 board meeting, that the board would see the seriousness of the situation and call a special session,” Adamic said.
While a date for the appeal hearing has not yet been set, Wheeler said Friday the panel will include Utah Board of Education vice-chairwoman Terryl Warner, as well as board members Scott Neilson, Janet Cannon, Linda Hansen, and Jennifer Graviet.
That panel will submit a recommendation to either confirm the closure or reinstate the school’s charter to the full board for consideration.
“Depending on its final decision, the board will work with Kairos Academy to either reopen the school for the 2017-18 school year or continue with the ongoing closure process,” Wheeler said.
The State Charter School Board ordered the school closed due to concerns over low enrollment, budgetary pressures and poor academic performance. But Adamic has pushed back against those characterizations, pointing to enrollment growth since the school opened in 2014 and the unique academic challenges faced by its students.
“I think this is a good school for our community,” she said, ”being able to have an option for these students.”
Adamic said she understands if students and faculty feel compelled to find other options for the coming school year. But so far the school has lost only one teacher, Adamic said, while retaining the bulk of its 90 prospective students.
“These girls want to attend Kairos and they are waiting for the state board of education to make a decision,” she said. ”They do want to see this through.”
Huerta said the direction from school officials has been to “hang in there” and “keep your head up.” Asked how a delayed school year would affect her post-high school plans, she expressed uncertainty and dissatisfaction with her options.
Despite Adamic’s optimism, Huerta said several of her classmates plan to return to their neighborhood schools. But as a 20-year-old alternative student, Huerta doesn’t have a neighborhood school to go back to and was unsure if comparable programs would fit her needs.
“It just doesn’t seem like it’s going to give me the help I want,” she said. “I don‘t know. It’s weird.”
Adamic said her staff has reached out to administrators at Granite School District — where Kairos is located and where most Kairos students live — and other area charter schools. They’re aware of the school’s predicament, she said, and the situation students will be placed in if Kairos’ appeal is unsuccessful.
Most Salt Lake County schools are scheduled to resume classes the week of August 21, more than two weeks before the earliest date that Kairos Academy could know its fate.
“We do have a safety net built in there if needed,” Adamic said. “We will help place our students.”