The Joseph Littles-Nguzo Saba school, the lone African-centered charter school in Florida, has a little more time to make its case to the School District of Palm Beach County before facing termination.
The school won an extension on Wednesday, May 12, with an opportunity to outline the reasons why it should retain its charter. In what the charter school officials considered a big victory, school board members on Wednesday voted to grant the school another continuance — or postponement — before making a decision on the school’s fate.
The board was set to vote on Superintendent Art Johnson’s recommendation that the Riviera Beach school’s charter be terminated, effective June 30. But skillful arguments from Nguzo Saba’s noted attorney, Dedrick Straghn, convinced school board members to grant the extension so the school would have more time to answer what Straghn said are new allegations against it.
In a letter dated April 30, Johnson sent Nguzo Saba founder Amefika Geuka a new letter specifying detailed allegations against the school concerning its finances and its failure to meet academic standards. In his original letter to the school in February, Johnson made allegations that were more of a general nature.
Straghn argued that the new “specific details” were tantamount to new allegations against the school, and therefore the school should be given more time to address them. School board attorney Corey Smith argued that there were no new allegations presented in the second letter, insisting that every detail in the April 30 letter could be found in the original documents.
Johnson cited financial distress, debts and a failure to meet academic standards as the reasons he wants the school’s charter terminated.
Geuka said he believes the superintendent sent him the more detailed letter in recent weeks out of a need to strengthen a weak case against the school.
Geuka admitted that the school has had its share of financial issues, but said the school should be acknowledged for its successes and the fact that it has not received an “F” rating. It has, however consistently received a “D” grade.
Geuka has pointed out that 90 percent of the Nguzo-Saba student population is considered intellectually unteachable or has behavioral problems. School officials say they accept many students who have been forced to leave the regular schools. For many of the students, Nguzo Saba is their final hope.
A new date for an informal hearing and a vote on whether or not to terminate the school’s charter will take place within 30 days of the May 12 meeting.
Fifty-three of the school’s students came in a school bus to the hearing, wearing their school shirts. They sat quietly in the audience while the adults prepared to fight for the school’s survival.
Former students who have gone on to become college honor students were also prepared to speak at the hearing.
Geuka said he’s pleased with the outcome of the vote for a continuance.
“Each of our students is somebody,” he said, after the hearing, “…regardless of what anybody else thinks of them.”
Photo: Amefika Geuka