GCPS, Ivy Prep discuss keeping all-girls school open

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

NORCROSS — Gwinnett County Public Schools officials have been meeting with representatives of Ivy Preparatory Academy to discuss options for keeping the all-girls charter school open in the upcoming school year, the district announced Tuesday.

The future of Ivy Prep, which is located in Norcross, was threatened when the Georgia Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that the 2008 law that created the Georgia Charter Schools Commission was unconstitutional. The commission was an alternative authorizing agent for charter schools that had been rejected by local boards of education.

Nina Gilbert, the founder of Ivy Prep, approached the Gwinnett County Board of Education in 2007 with a request to open the all-girls school. The school board turned her down, saying they were concerned with potential litigation because there was not a similar option for boys.

Ivy Prep opened in 2008 after receiving approval from the state Board of Education. In its first year, the public charter school only received state tax dollars and struggled financially.

When the Georgia Charter Schools Commission was created, Ivy Prep was one of the first schools the board approved. With the commission’s nod, Ivy Prep also received a financial boost in the form of additional state funding to match the local property tax dollars the school lost with the Gwinnett school board’s rejection. The money was siphoned away from Gwinnett County Public Schools, which officials said cost the district about $800,000 a year.

Gwinnett County Public Schools was one of seven school districts that filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Charter Schools Commission. While a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the state, the Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision overturned the law.

During the Gwinnett school board’s May meeting, many Ivy Prep supporters spoke in favor of the school and urged the board to work to keep the school open. A decision on two charter school requests from Gilbert — one for an all-girls school and one for an all-boys school — was delayed at Gilbert’s request.

Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said in a news release Monday that district staff have been meeting with Ivy Prep representatives “to discuss options for allowing the school to continue operations in the upcoming school year.”

“I feel optimistic at this point that we will be able to work out an agreement that will be in the best interest of the students involved,” Wilbanks said.

The meetings and discussions have focused on Ivy Prep’s current charter contract and how it might be amended to a start-up charter school petition to present to the Gwinnett County Board of Education for consideration, the news release states. Wilbanks said the parties will continue to meet to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.