Valor Classical Academy charter school is seeking authorization to start a K-6 school in the fall of 2023 and possibly use a former Carmel Clay school building. At a public hearing Wednesday night, school choice advocates say they want more affordable choice options in Carmel, while those against said district resources could be siphoned away from schools if the charter is approved.
Here’s what you need to know:
What is Valor Classical Academy?
Valor Classical Academy is a charter school that has partnered with Hillsdale College to open a new school in the Carmel Clay school district.
If approved, the school plans to open to K-6 students in the fall of 2023, but it is still unclear where the school will be housed. The school then plans to add on a grade level each year until it reaches to be a K-12 school, possibly by 2028.
The school’s charter application says that the mission of the school is to “fill a critical gap in K-12 education in Hamilton County, Indiana, by offering a tuition-free, rigorous, content-rich, civics-centered, classical education grounded in the foundational tenets of our Western heritage and center on Truth and Virtue.”
The application also says students “will be engaged in Socratic dialogue, and will study the Great Works of literature, which express and explore universal truths that provide insight into our heritage, our individual personhood and what it means to live a meaningful life.”
Hillsdale College is a private school in southern Michigan that is known for promoting conservative Christian values and has close ties with President Donald Trump.
Valor is seeking charter authorization through the Grace College charter school authorization board, which is separate from the college’s board of trustees. Grace is a Christian college in northern Indiana which has already approved one Hillsdale-affiliated charter school in Indiana.
What’s happening with Orchard Park school building?
Valor sued Carmel Clay Schools earlier this year over the use of Orchard Park Elementary school for the charter school’s possible future facility.
Per the lawsuit, Valor alleges that per state law, Carmel Clay Schools should have notified the state about the closure of the elementary building, which would have made it available to Valor to lease or buy for $1.
Orchard stopped offering instructional learning in its facility in May of 2021 and in June 2021 the Carmel Clay School board approved a resolution for a partnership with Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation for shared use of the property.
The district has said the building remained in use since classes ended and pointed to a response from Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s office that the district followed state law.
The next hearing for that case is scheduled for Oct. 24. Wilson told IndyStar after Wednesday’s hearing that she hopes a final decision will be made by the end of the year.
What happened at the public hearing?
Community members and Carmel Clay schools stakeholders spoke at a public hearing held at a Holiday Inn in Carmel on Wednesday, Sept. 21.
The public hearing was hosted by representatives from Grace College as a way to get feedback that would be considered as the college evaluates the charter’s application.
Many speakers who were in favor of Valor spoke on how they want more school choice options in Hamilton County that are not private schools. Others mentioned how they wanted their children to be taught under a more “classical” curriculum and with conservative values in mind.
Holly Wilson is the founding board president for Valor and said at the beginning of Wednesday’s hearing that Valor is about putting parents in control of their child’s education and emphasizes a classical education model.
“A classical education is not transient or speculative,” Wilson said. “It doesn’t change with the winds of our current events and it’s not responsive to political agendas.”
Multiple representatives from Carmel Clay School District spoke against Valor, including Katie Browning, Carmel Clay’s school board president, who said those advocating for Valor to be approved are a minority in the district.
“We have 16,000 students and their families who make their voices heard every single day by attending Carmel Clay Schools,” Browning said. “Countless families like myself move to Carmel, Indiana specifically for the high caliber education that our students receive at Carmel Clay schools.”
What is the community saying?
Margaret Tomaska is a parent of a second grader attending a Carmel school and spoke against approving the charter Wednesday night. She said that after examining Valor’s application she doesn’t think it has the same rigor that Carmel schools already offer.
“I see something that feels like parental control,” Tomaska said. “I see something that feels political and it’s really upsetting to me as a parent that we want to work to divide our community rather than bring it together and start working together on improving what we have.”
Many of the speakers in favor of Valor said that they would like more choice in affordable school options in Hamilton County, which mostly has private or district-run schools. A few speakers in favor of Valor also suggested that some of the things taught in district schools were pushing liberal political agendas.
Karoline Zeller grew up in Carmel and spoke in favor of Valor saying that she hopes it provides the same level of success for students that she saw in Carmel schools 30 years ago.
“We’re excited for an option that has accountability, limited technology in the classroom, and a commitment to keeping political biases out of the classroom as well,” Zeller said.
At one point in the meeting, those in favor of Valor shouted down and tried to quiet a speaker who was in favor of district schools after the speaker mentioned that Hillsdale College has connections to former President Donald Trump, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
If approved, Valor would be the first charter K-8 grade school in the Carmel Clay school district and in Hamilton County.
In Hamilton County, there is Options Indiana, an online school, plus the physical campuses of Options Noblesville and Options Westfield as well as Indiana Agriculture and Technology School and Excel Center – Noblesville, a high school for adult learners.
A charter school is a public school that operates under a contract, or charter, between the school’s organizer and an authorizer or sponsor.
Charter schools are also exempt from some state and school district regulations and have more autonomy than traditional public schools, in exchange for more accountability. An Authorizer may revoke a school’s charter at any time if it’s not fulfilling the terms of its charter.
Additionally, school funding in Indiana follows the student, so if a student enrolls in a charter school, the funding for that student will be allocated to the charter school.
What happens next?
Those who were not able to come to Wednesday’s meeting can still submit comments online until the close of business Friday, Sept. 23.
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Tim Ziebarth, a representative of Grace College ran Wednesday’s hearing and said that now the college’s charter authorization board has to review all of the public comments and documents submitted by the charter organizers as part of the final steps for approval.
Ziebarth couldn’t say when exactly the board meeting for approval of the charter would be held but said it would likely be sometime in October. He said the meeting, which is open to the public, will be posted on the college’s website.
IndyStar archives contributed to this reporting.
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