The Estancia Valley Classical Academy is challenging a December decision by the state to deny renewal of its charter.

A letter to the school Dec. 20 said the charter was being denied because “the school’s policies are in direct violation of federal law.” However, the letter does not give any specifics about how the school allegedly violates federal law, one of the first things mentioned in the school’s appeal of the decision.

At the hearing before the PEC on December 7, 2016 no documentation was presented by the PED staff, other witnesses or PEC staff to support the conclusion that the EVCA’s policies were in violation of federal law,” the appeal says. “No testimony was presented which identified the particular policies of the EVCA that the PEC considered to be in violation of federal law.”

The school sought a 5-year renewal of its charter.

A transcript of the hearing has one of the Commissioners, Katie Poulos, saying, “… the school is meeting the Department’s standards of excellence which the [Charter School Division] has most heavily weighted.”

Poulos goes on to say , “There were some terms on the material terms that CSD felt were not being met; specifically, with regards to the—providing modern and Classical languages, which CSD was unable to observe offering modern languages.”

Poulos said the school had “some material weaknesses in their audits” and added that there were “some concerns about legal compliance, specifically, with regards to instructional hours … that match between the calendar that’s provided as part of the budgeting process and the calendar that’s being implemented.

She said the school has been “very responsive to the concerns and findings” of the Commission.

Ultimately, she said the CSD was recommending approval of the charter with recommended corrective actions.

The school also sought an increase from 575 students to 780, which Poulos said CSD was also recommending approval of that amendment, which was considered separately.

Presenting for EVCA was Roger Lenard, president of its governing council, along with Tim Thiery, whom Lenard described as “executive director,” and Harlan Lawson, vice president of the governing council.

Lenard said it has taken the school “about four years” to establish student services for Special Education and English Language Learners “to the level desired.”

He said the school now offers modern languages through an online dual credit program.

A letter from Moriarty-Edgewood School District superintendent Tom Sullivan was read into the record of the proceeding.

Sullivan described the relationship between MESD and the charter school as “positive,” but said there is an area of concern. “There has been a noticeable pattern of parents with special needs students re- or enrolling in our schools, reporting having been encouraged to leave EVCA and being told EVCA could not accommodate their needs.”

Sullivan said MESD has about 15 percent of its students in “special education services” and said EVCA has less than 5 percent.

We reject a lot of the contents of that letter, okay?” Lenard said. “There is no way in the world that we would turn away a family and tell them they weren’t welcome at our school. First off, it’s against the law, okay? Second off, we care about those kids.”

Commissioner Toulouse expressed concern about “the Hillsdale curriculum.” The EVCA is aligned with Hillsdale College, which set out to create charter schools around the nation.

To me, that is a Christian school, and their curriculum is a Christian curriculum. And that is not allowed, one way or the other, in public schools.”

Hillsdale is not a religious institution,” Lenard said, adding that EVCA’s curriculum is aligned with Common Core and New Mexico standards, and pointing out that Hillsdale was not seeking a charter.

Another commissioner asked whether EVCA teaches “Creationism.”

No,” Lenard answered.

The commissioner asked if the school teaches evolution. “Yes,” Lenard said.

The Commission Chairwoman questioned whether the school is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA—pointing out language from the school’s original charter application. “So I hesitate to accept a school at this point in time that is in such blatant violation of civil liberties.” She said comments on the charter renewal say that “parents” expressed concern “that difficult children do not seem to fit into the school model.”

Another commissioner expressed concerns about the school’s ability to provide service to its lowest-performing students; the EVCA was graded F, D and F for the past three years on that by the state.

The Chairwoman made a motion to deny the renewal “because the school’s policies are in direct violation of federal law.” The vote was 6-1 to deny the renewal.

In the Appeal, it states, “If the PEC Decision to deny the renewal of EVCA’s Charter was based on the personal opinion of its chair that EVCA was violating federal law in its employment practices and policies, or special education policies, the PEC Decision should be reversed on the basis that it is not supported by substantial evidence, was arbitrary and capricious and not in accordance with the law.”