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2016 in Review: State regulations, charter school

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

The former Hartnett Elementary School in Truxton is pictured here. In 2015, the Truxton Academy Charter School board bought the building for $51,000 with the intention of developing a charter school in the building.

From plans to develop a new charter school to the requirement to adhere to new state regulations, local school districts had much to consider in 2016.

Here are some of the top stories.

Charter School progress

One step away from potentially having the proposed Truxton Academy Charter School approved by the state Education Department, after more than a year of work to get it to that point, the board in charge of developing the school withdrew its application from the state in November.

After reviewing letters and statements by area residents who would be affected by the development of the school in the former Hartnett Elementary School building, the state and the charter school board became alarmed about the number of concerns and “misinformation,” said Jeanetta Laudermilk a member of the proposed charter school board.

She described the board’s action to pull the application as “a delay in the process.”

With its plans on hold, the board now hopes to officially open the school in the fall of 2018, a year later than originally intended. Laudermilk said that will allow time to address concerns people have.

The Homer Board of Education voted in June 2015 to close Hartnett Elementary School in Truxton and later that year the Truxton Academy Charter School board bought the building for $51,000. The group raised the money through a GoFundMe online page, a fundraiser and a large donation from a local resident.

After being denied twice, the charter school board’s letter of intent was approved by the state in July and two months later the state accepted the proposal for the school.

In October, board members met with state officials in Albany to further discuss their plan for the school.

Comments from a public hearing on the charter school held in October, were sent to the state for review, leading to the decision to pull the application.

State test change

The state Education Department made significant changes to testing for third- through eighth-grades in April, intending to provide better standards for teachers and students.

The changes were a welcome sight, Homer Superintendent of Schools Nancy Ruscio said in April.

The English Language Arts and mathematics tests, administered in April, now have fewer questions, lack a time restriction, and for the next four years, poor marks will not result in penalizing teachers and principals.

These changes were made because of an overwhelming concern from parents and students that there is a problem with testing standards in New York, said Jeanne Beattie, an Education Department spokeswoman. This concern has led to a copious amount of third- through eighth-graders in New York opting out of taking the test. Out of the more than 1.1 million third- through eighth-graders enrolled in New York state, 60,000 students opted out in 2014 and 225,000 in 2015, said Carl Korn, a spokesman for New York State United Teachers.

Schools accommodate transgender students

Civil rights for transgender people had been a central issue throughout the country earlier this year and local schools began taking action to ensure they provide a comfortable environment for all students.

On May 14 the administration of President Barack Obama directed public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. Accompanying that was a joint letter from the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice with guidelines for providing a supportive school environment.

Many local schools worked diligently to put new policies in place to do just that.

In June Homer Superintendent of Schools Nancy Ruscio said the district has, what she called, family friendly bathrooms — gender neutral single-stall bathrooms that anyone could use.

Dryden Superintendent of Schools Sandy Sherwood said that about two years ago the district turned all of its single-stall bathrooms, which used to be labeled as “staff only” or were designated to one gender, into gender-neutral bathrooms.

The Marathon School District has two gender neutral bathrooms in the high school and two in the elementary school, according to Marathon Superintendent of Schools Rebecca Stone.

Steve Hubbard, Cincinnatus superintendent of schools, said his district had an attorney come in and speak with the district’s Board of Education to help develop a policy. He said the purpose of it is to protect all of the kids and make them feel comfortable at school.

“How could a student learn if they are not comfortable?” Hubbard asked.

He said there are gender-neutral bathrooms throughout the district, along with locked individual bathrooms with a key, which are offered to any person going through a difficult time.

For more of 2016’s top stories, check out our year-in-review roundups.

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