A group of middle school children slated to start their first day of classes today at a new charter school were blocked from attending.
Parents, students and staff of the Riverdale charter school, Utopian Academy For the Arts, are meeting at this moment with Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon to get to the heart of why the school is caught in what they says is a confusing turn of events that keeps the school from being able to open.
Here’s the story so far: school leaders at Utopian say they were warned not to open today without a license. So they didn’t. But they say the Clayton school district is behind the reason the school has not been able to open. The school district spokeswoman Vicki Constantinides says that’s not the case. She said Clayton County Public Schools has no jurisdiction over Utopian since it is a state charter school not a Clayton school. Riverdale Mayor Winn Dixon said she was just made aware of the problem Saturday and a Riverdale city manager Scott Wood, four days into his new job, said it could boil down to an issue of a certificate of occupancy or the lease.
No one is quite sure what or where the problem lies.
But one thing is for sure the parents and students who showed up at the school this morning want answers. Many parents like Kimberly Payne took the day off to bring their children to school today. They’re also worried that students will be missing precious time from school. Utopian parents and staff planned to attend tonight’s scheduled Clayton Board of Education meeting to get further answers.
Artesius Miller, the head of Utopian Academy said he has been warned by county officials not to open today, the first day of school for some 200 elementary and middle school children.
Utopian Academy for the Arts was supposed to open at 8 a.m. but Riverdale fire marshals vowed to block students from entering the building in Riverdale because the school does not have a business license. Miller, the executive director and founder of the school, said state education and charter school officials have told him schools in Georgia do not need business licenses to operate. Efforts to reach Riverdale Fire Marshal Demetries Wells were unsuccessful.
Miller said earlier this morning the first-day of school showdown is a last-ditch attempt by the school district to keep the charter school from opening.
“It’s a malicious and timely response to prevent us from opening our doors,” said Miller, 27, a former investment banker with a background in school operations.
Despite the warning, Miller and his staff were in the building Monday morning at about 5:45 preparing to receive some 200 sixth and seventh graders at 8. The school is in a former elementary school in Riverdale that housed a charter school - Scholars Academy - until June 30, when its charter was not renewed by the state. Scholars Academy is not to be confused with Elite Scholars, another charter school affiliated with the Clayton school district.
Even though it’s not required to have a business license, Miller said his charter school applied for one on July 24 but has yet to hear anything with regard to the license.
“The city of Riverdale has expressed its concern about us not receiving a business license,” said Miller, who wrote the early drafts for Utopian’s charter application while a graduate student at Columbia University in New York. “They (Clayton school officials) don’t want any charter schools in this building.”
The district has kept the schools from opening every year since 2011 by denying its charter application. But the state overruled the county last October, effectively clearing the way for the school to exist.
Utopian officials attended a meeting Sunday between the fire marshall and Riverdale officials. At that meeting, the fire marshall reiterated that students would be block from entering the building on Monday.
Thursday is the first day of classes for Clayton County public schools.
Come back for updates on this developing story.