An organization seeking to open a charter school in Carmel filed a lawsuit April 8 asking a Hamilton County judge to decide whether Carmel Clay Schools followed state law in determining future plans for the former Orchard Park Elementary site, which is set to become a park amenity.
The complaint, filed by attorney and Republican Indiana State Rep. Chris Jeter on behalf of Indiana Classical Schools Corp., is asking the court to determine whether the CCS school board’s June 2018 vote to approve a recommendation to close the elementary building should have triggered a requirement in state law to essentially make former school buildings available to charter schools for $1 before selling the property or committing it to a use not related to education.
The law states that school districts must notify the Indiana Dept. of Education – which then notifies organizations that authorize charter schools – “no later than 10 days after passing a resolution or taking other official action to close, no longer use or no longer occupy a building that was previously used for classroom instruction.”
CCS has not notified IDOE about the availability of the building because it is still being used by the district for meeting space, professional development, staging and safety drills. The Indiana attorney general’s office confirmed in December 2021 the building is still in use by CCS.
CCS issued a statement April 11 in response to the lawsuit.
“The Orchard Park property is an important asset to the neighborhood, and we remain pleased to partner with Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation for the property’s future use to benefit our entire community,” the statement reads. “We are aware of the lawsuit initiated by Indiana State Rep. Christopher Jeter on behalf of the Indiana Classical Schools Corporation. The response to a complaint with the Indiana Attorney General’s office confirmed we have been fully compliant with the law regarding the use of our property. CCS will now efficiently address the matter through the judicial process as needed.”
The CCS school board approved a resolution in June 2021 outlining its intentions to lease the site to CCPR to develop a new park. The school board vote occurred less than a week before a change in state law that would require school districts to receive confirmation from the Indiana attorney general that the district has complied with laws requiring vacant school buildings to be offered to charter schools before they can approve resolutions to sell, exchange, lease, demolish, hold without operation or dispose of a school building.
Indiana Classical Schools Corp. is seeking to open Valor Classical Academy, part of Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Initiative, in the former Orchard Park building beginning in the 2023-24 school year.
“Orchard Park is owned by the taxpayers and is no longer being used for classroom instruction. We’d like to restore this facility back to a productive use by opening a classical school that supports parents, students and educators and adds new opportunities and value to this vibrant community,” stated Holly Wilson, founder of Valor Classical school.
According to a press release, Valor’s mission is “to educate the minds of students to seek truth, beauty, and goodness as they pursue academic excellence through a rigorous, content-rich curriculum that develops moral character and civic virtue.”
As a BCSI school, Valor is set to receive free curriculum and other non-financial support from Hillsdale College, a small Christian liberal arts college in Michigan with ties to several conservative organizations and politicians.
The Grace School Charter Authority, which is affiliated with Grace College in Winona Lake, is set to authorize Valor, meaning it would hold the new school accountable to fulfill its charter.