It is an era of fake news. Recent national headlines have demonstrated that anyone can make an accusation and have some outlets in the media take it seriously, even when it is not supported by credible evidence.
The past few months have shown that Eastern Idaho is not immune from this trend. Hopefully, this column will clear up some misconceptions regarding two charter schools in Blackfoot.
Since this past December, several misconceptions have been circulating regarding two Blackfoot schools, the Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center (BCCLC) and Bingham Academy.
The accusations included: cover-up of sexual abuse, use of school funds for international travel, and financial misconduct. These accusations, while serious on their face, were made anonymously and were not supported by evidence.
The accusations led to negative media coverage. The claims of cover-up of sexual abuse and school funds being used for international travel were quickly dismissed by the Idaho Public School Charter Commission.
Financial concerns have been investigated by a forensic audit. So far the auditors, while finding some deficiencies in record keeping in their preliminary report, after a $20,000 taxpayer-funded investigation, did not found any evidence of financial misconduct.
A report issued by the auditing firm on May 24 stated the following, “As reflected in this letter, the Charter Schools readily produced information at our request. We have not identified any financial impropriety concerns to date over cash handling and credit card activity. We did note supporting records, such as invoices and receipts, were somewhat unorganized. Due to the lack of organization, attempting to account for each invoice or receipt to support operational expenses could be difficult. However, it appears the recordkeeping process is improving at the Charter Schools.”
While those at the school may be cleared of wrongdoing, this does not undo all the damage done to the schools or the reputations of the educators. There has been little media coverage which has stated the results of the audit or reporting that other scandalous allegations lacked a basis.
During the past few months, the good work of the schools has been overlooked, as much of the media has only focused on the negative, and eventually discredited sensationalist tales.
One example of this would be Bingham Academy’s designation as the first high school in Idaho to be certified as a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) school. Very few heard about this notable achievement, but many more were familiar with the unsubstantiated allegations.
There is also some confusion with regard to what a charter school is. Some people think that it is a private school, which operates as a charity, or for-profit. In reality, a charter school in Idaho is a public school. No tuition is charged, and a charter school is its own school district under Idaho Code.
A charter school does not, however, enjoy all the same privileges as a traditional school district. A charter school cannot supplement the money it receives from the state by putting levies on the ballot, and it receives less money per pupil than a public school in a traditional school district. However, despite these limitations many charter schools in Idaho excel beyond their counterparts in traditional districts.
Some confusion regarding the fact that charter schools are public school districts may exist with the Blackfoot Planning and Zoning Commission.
On the agenda of the Blackfoot Planning and Zoning Commission, Tuesday night is a peculiar item, the consideration of conditional-use permit for BCCLC and Bingham Academy. Why the request is peculiar is because the same request is not being made of the Blackfoot School District.
The Blackfoot School District operates currently two campuses in areas zoned as “light commercial” the Blackfoot Heritage Sixth Grade Center and the Vaughn Highie Early Childhood Center. They are the same zoning designation as the campuses of BCCLC and Bingham Academy. Yet the Blackfoot School District neither has, nor has been required, to get a conditional-use permit for these two campuses.
To many, this would seem to be giving one school district favorable treatment, over two other districts. This on its face would seem unfair. However, it may be more than that. It may be unconstitutional.
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that government agencies cannot deny equal protection of the law to a party.
It would seem that Blackfoot Planning and Zoning Commission may be acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner requiring one school district to obtain a conditional-use permit to operate its campuses, while not requiring another district in an identical situation to do the same.
An adverse action by the P and Z Commission would negatively impact over 700 students, parents, and 100 employees of the two schools. Thus endangering the ability of students to learn, and faculty to be employed at Bingham Academy and BCCLC.
Misconceptions and rumors about Bingham Academy and BCCLC have not served the public well. But I’d like to thank the Idaho State Journal for not joining in the sensationalism. Charter schools, meanwhile, provide valuable alternatives in education to both students and parents here in Eastern Idaho.
Dan Cravens lives with his wife and family in Blackfoot. His two oldest children attend BCCLC and he serves on the board of both schools.