Options withdraws Edinburgh charter school application after backlash

Officials from Options Charter School have withdrawn their application to open a location in Edinburgh.

The decision Wednesday came after leaders from surrounding schools pushed back against the plan during a public information session Monday at Edinburgh Premium Outlets, where charter school officials originally planned to open a location.

Options Charter School opened in 2002 as an alternative school meant for students struggling in a traditional school setting. The Edinburgh location would’ve been the third for Options, which formed in 2002 and already has programs in Noblesville and Westfield. Leaders from the charter school planned to work with school counselors to enroll students at risk of not graduating from nearby school districts, such as Edinburgh and Indian Creek schools, said Bob Marr, executive director for the office of charter schools at Ball State University.

As a charter school, Options gets public funding but can design its own curriculum. If officials had moved forward with the plan, Options would’ve replaced the Simon Youth Foundation Academy alternative school that closed its location at the mall about two years ago. Leaders from the Simon Youth Foundation asked Options Charter School to start a new program there. The school would’ve been limited to 30 students in 11th and 12th grade, with school officials working with students who they thought had a better chance of graduation by attending Options.

But school leaders who attended the meeting Monday said they already had alternative programs in place at their school districts. With consensus from schools that Options is not needed, the charter school’s authorizing committee decided to discard the proposal.

Ron Ross, superintendent of Edinburgh schools, was among the attendees of Monday’s meeting who spoke against the charter school. Some Edinburgh students used to attend the Simon Youth Academy alternative program at the mall, but the partnership between Edinburgh schools and Simon Youth Foundation ended when the foundation canceled its memorandum of understanding with 11 academies, including the one serving Edinburgh students, Ross said.

“When they terminated that MOU we took on the full cost of operating the academy ourselves,” he said. “We designated a location, purchased computers and software, and took on the full cost of the teacher. We also expanded the program to include students who could benefit beyond just juniors and seniors not on track to graduate. We are now able to serve more students than we were before.”

Ball State’s charter review committee serves as the authorizer for Options Charter School and Marr advised the committee against moving forward with the plans because of the feedback from the meeting, Marr said.

“Reading the comment cards (from the meeting), they said ‘we have the program and we don’t think the program would work well here, we believe we can serve our kids here locally,’” he said. “We couldn’t see the need for that location. (Options) can resubmit down the road but I wasn’t comfortable taking that forward.”

Ross was also concerned by the lack of special education and counseling staff for the proposed location. The school was set to have only two staff members, with the 30 students split between morning and afternoon sessions.

“Edinburgh Community School Corporation is vehemently against the opening of Options Charter School in Edinburgh,” Ross said. “These students will be isolated in a classroom at a shopping mall. This model did not work during the pandemic. Students isolated and learning virtually failed miserably during the pandemic, and putting at-risk students in this position is not (a) best practice.”