- Associated Press - Friday, January 9, 2015

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - One year after ordering that Reach Academy be allowed to stay open, a federal judge heard arguments Friday on yet another request to thwart efforts by Delaware education officials to close the struggling all-girls charter school in New Castle.

Attorneys for Reach Academy asked U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Stark for a preliminary injunction preventing the Delaware Department of Education from closing the school after refusing to renew its charter last year.

Reach supporters say students at the predominantly black school are victims of gender and racial discrimination, and that DOE officials violated the students’ due process rights by not following their own rules and regulations in refusing to renew the school’s charter.

In particular, they argued that state officials did not adequately consider the school’s plans to improve, and instead based the non-renewal decision strictly on past performance.

“That’s a glaring error,” said Reach attorney Charles Brown III.

Attorneys for the DOE argued that there is no support for the plaintiffs’ claims, and that they have failed to satisfy requirements for an injunction. They also noted that as long as Reach stays open, there is no opportunity to consider applications for any other all-girls charter school, because state law allows only one same-sex charter school for girls and one for boys.

DOE attorney Kenisha Ringgold said Reach Academy officials were allowed to submit their plans for the future for Education Secretary Mark Murphy to consider in deciding whether the school should be allowed to remain open.

“Reach Academy did submit their future plans, and the secretary had access to that information,” she told the judge.

Stark, who repeatedly left Brown struggling to explain the legal bases for some of the school’s claims, said he would try to issue a ruling before next Wednesday’s statutory deadline for Delaware students to make school choice decisions. The judge, who last year ordered state officials to renew Reach’s charter for another year, noted earlier in Friday’s hearing that attorneys had left him with little time in which to work.

Ringgold noted that Reach attorneys did not file their lawsuit until two weeks after a final Dec. 18 decision to close the school, even though the state Board of Education voted unanimously in April 2014 to reject a proposed performance agreement submitted by the school.

Attorneys for the state argued that Reach, which has a long history of financial and academic struggles, has been given sufficient opportunity to try to improve its “dismal” academic performance. They noted in court papers that after being allowed to remain open last year, Reach managed only to move its academic performance rating from the previous year’s “far below the standard” to “does not meet the standard,” achieving that rating by only one point on a scale of 100.

Duane Werb, an attorney for Reach, said students have shown progress, and that the school should be given more time to make changes.

“Reach Academy has earned the right to exist going forward,” he told the judge.

As people filed out of the courtroom, Werb approached Murphy and quietly asked “Mark, is there anything that can be done?”

Murphy just silently shook his head.

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