“They needed to be accountable to us, to provide us with those documents,” PACE parent Sherry Mergner said. “We were denied access to them, and our kids were denied due process.”
PACE Academy served children with a wide range of alternative learning needs. Approximately half of the student body had Individualized Education Plans, and many other students faced different forms of adversity.
These adversities hindered them from conforming to the learning environments provided by traditional public schools. For example, 18 percent of former PACE students were teenage parents, and 15 percent reported dropping out of school before coming to PACE.
Critics had talked since 2013 about revoking the charter. But after PACE failed to meet operational and academic standards set by the Department of Public Instruction, the academy lost its charter in mid-August.
The North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board declined to comment for this story.
“I know from the perspective of other parents, our kids’ needs were being met,” said Mergner. “(My son’s) individualized education was a living document at PACE.”
Rebecca Sorenson, a PACE parent, said the education department failed to provide the resources necessary to keep charter schools like PACE up and running.
“We were devastated by how low the expectations were for exceptional children in Wake County schools,” Sorenson said. “If DPI was doing the job that they needed to be doing, these charters wouldn’t have to exist, but the regular public school systems do not have the resources to provide for our children.”
Since the decision to close PACE, Sorenson’s son has dropped out of school and begun vocational training.
Gahagan, the parents’ lawyer, said the complaint also requested that the parents’ attorneys’ fees be reimbursed and that policymakers continue to deliberate the situation.
“Our kids are segregated in regular public school. They don’t have peers that they can socialize with. They feel invisible,” Mergner said. “We can’t save PACE, but we can show that there was negligence.”