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More than 1,400 sign online petition urging reprieve for charter school for teen moms

More than 1,400 sign online petition urging reprieve for charter school for teen moms

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — More than 1,400 people have signed an online petition urging a reprieve for Kairos Academy, a public charter school that serves teen moms and pregnant teens. The Utah State Charter School Board voted on June 20 to terminate its charter.

The school has until July 5 to request a hearing over the board's decision, which school board members said was related to concerns about low enrollment and poor academic outcomes for students.

The petition says, in part, that "Kairos Academy has made every effort to improve both academic and social opportunities for students. Shutting down Kairos is not the answer. Please sign this petition to show support for a more individualized, compassionate education for students that really need it."

Thus far, the charter school board has not been contacted by representatives of the school, said executive director Jennifer Lambert. A request for a hearing must be submitted in writing.

Neither Lambert nor the charter school board had any comment on the online petition, she said.

If the school does not request a hearing, the board's decision will go into effect. If a hearing is conducted and the board affirms its decision to terminate the school's charter, that decision can be appealed to the elected Utah State Board of Education.

The online petition also has comments from signers, many of them supporters of the school's charter and offerings, others who wrote that they were teen mothers helped by similar programs.

"My sister-in-law law attended this school. It took awhile but they helped my sister-in-law graduate. They didn't give up on her, and the day care helped with having somewhere for my nephew to go, while she was in school," one comment said.

Tennille Rodgers' daughter Nikki has attended Kairos Academy for the past two years and has a toddler son. Nikki, 17, is on track to graduate from high school in six months. The closure of the school would sidetrack her plans, she said.

Rodgers said Nikki works full time, lives at home and has the support of her family. She is doggedly determined to finish high school and move on to other opportunities to support her son, still "she still desperately needs this school. It's been such a blessing to her. If it's going to be this hard for her to have to give up on it, I can only imagine what the other girls are stressing out about."

Unlike mainstream public schools, Kairos Academy welcomed and nurtured Nikki and her son, Noah, Rodgers said.

The school provides free on-site child care and the students can take courses online when they are unable to attend school in person. The Rodgerses are unaware of another public school that provides on-site child care at no cost to the student, Tennille Rodgers said.

Rodgers said if Kairos students are presented the option of returning to traditional public high schools, most likely will drop out. Few, if any, can afford child care and many teen mothers will experience ridicule and judgement.

"There's just a label you get if you've had a baby. There's a lot of bullying and a lot of judgements that get thrown at you — not just from the students but from the administration, from the coaches. She (Nikki) had all of that," she said.

Few of Nikki's classmates have as much family support as she does, and Rodgers said she particularly fears for their futures and that of their children.

Closure "will be very detrimental to the girls and their children. Kairos is providing a safe way for girls to be successful in their futures. It is vital that it stays open," Rodgers wrote in an email to the Deseret News.

The school, which received a charter by the charter school board in 2013, was placed on probation two years later over concerns about enrollment, faculty members' qualifications and students' academic performance.

Charter school board member Michelle Smith, speaking at the recent charter board meeting, said she does not believe the school or charter is "salvageable."

"They've been extended lifeline after lifeline beyond what we would even offer other schools," Smith said, "and they have not only not availed themselves of the help that was proffered, they have actively resisted making changes."

Kevin Fenstermacher, the academy's director and board chairman, declined to comment on the charter board's decision immediately following the meeting. Subsequent emails and telephone messages to Fenstermacher and the school have not been returned.


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