School District revokes Wiseman school charter

Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Yukon-Koyukuk School District school board has taken over operation of the Wiseman Charter School, citing numerous violations of the school's contract with the district.

The board voted at its Feb. 17 meeting to revoke the school's charter. The action came two years after the school opened its doors in the small Dalton Highway community.

The revocation, which became effective March 9, is the first such action by a school board since Alaska's charter school law was passed in 1995, the state Department of Education and Early Development said.

While this is the third charter school to close, the state said it was the first time a district actually pulled a charter.

While the 13-student school will remain open indefinitely under district supervision, the decision to pull the charter angered some community members. They contend the district never allowed the school to operate as a charter school and that having a Fairbanks-based principal was to blame for many of the perceived problems.

''It is almost like a hostile takeover how the superintendent wants to do everything,'' said Missy Burroughs, one of the charter school's founders. ''We just want a fair shake.''

The school had some good ideas, Burroughs said, like using thematic teaching units and increasing social interaction among students in the community, which previously had only correspondence schooling available.

''(The charter) was approved by the Department of Education and they thought we were unique and different. I think our ideas need to be developed instead of just thrown out,'' Burroughs said.

The district, in a decision issued last week, cited a number of reasons for the charter revocation.

The school curriculum promoted Christian ideology, the district said in its decision, and the school ''sponsored'' a Bible club. Students participated in a play portraying the biblical story of Christmas and were asked to write essays about the meaning of Christmas, the decision said.

The school failed to comply with district procedures regarding long-distance telephone usage and also failed to keep records of grant-funded programs, the decision said.

The district also contends the school's academic policy committee failed to submit its bylaws.

Teri Dylhoff, the school's only teacher, said the Bible club was voluntary and was student-led and organized. It met before the school day began.

''The students came to me and said, 'Are we still going to have our Bible club,''' she said.

Dylhoff doesn't agree that the curriculum is religious.

''None of the school books, nothing in the building is a curriculum that is put out by a Christian publisher,'' she told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The district takes issue with her having students read passages from the Bible as a class assignment, Dylhoff said. But she said she asked them to do that in the context of world history and literature units.

''I asked them to read the Bible because I have almost no nonfiction books in my library.''

The school does not have Internet access.

Superintendent Karen Dempster said the district offered to help the community deal with some of the problems cited in the decision but met with resistance.

''They have a beef with this district all the time,'' Dempster said. ''There is nothing you are going to do to make them happy. You don't focus on the parents, you focus on the student.''

The district will maintain a school in the area as long as student enrollment is above 10 students. The district already has purchased a modular school building that will be placed in nearby Coldfoot, Dempster said.

Dylhoff fears the community will lose its school next year because of enrollment declines.

''The parents don't trust the district with their kids anymore,'' she said. ''If you alienate the parents, you are not going to have the kids and that is what they have done.''

The charter school's Burroughs, however, hasn't given up.

''I am not done trying to negotiate with those guys to reinstate our charter,'' she said. ''We just want to get back on a track that is going to be useful and functioning and meeting our needs. I am hoping we can still accomplish that.''

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