Charter school eyes Aug. opening

Board will meet tonight to consider mobile units, preparation of land

Charlotte Observer/May 6, 2004
By Gail Smith-Arrants

Carolina International School is moving ahead with plans to open in August despite some opposition to the school, which organizers originally wanted to offer Transcendental Meditation for students and staff.

At a meeting tonight, the school's board is considering contracts to lease 20 mobile units and prepare a newly purchased 36-acre site in Harrisburg, school director Richard Beall said Wednesday. Of the 20 units, 18 would be classrooms and two would house a media center and administrative building.

The property is at 8810 Hickory Ridge Road, south of Rocky River Road. The school will lease the land from a supporter who bought it specifically for the school.

The new property owner, Paul Pigue, is a friend "who wanted to support our school mission," Beall said.

The two met six to eight years ago, Beall said, because Pigue also practices Transcendental Meditation, a practice advocated by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a Hindu guru, to relax the mind and reduce stress.

It was TM that drew criticism from residents who said the school should not receive public funding because critics considered the meditation a religious practice -- a contention Beall disputes. TM and Natural Law Curriculum, which the school also was going to teach, are part of an educational program founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Charter schools, started by parents or others in the community, are approved by the state and receive state and some federal funding based on the number of students they enroll.

Because of opposition from residents, the state's Charter School Advisory Committee last month directed the school to drop all curriculum with a religious content.

Last month, the school's board voted to "suspend" TM and Natural Law from the curriculum and Beall said Wednesday both have been removed from the curriculum.

Michael Fedewa, chairman of the state advisory committee, said committee members will meet next Thursday in Raleigh to give final scrutiny to the school's charter revisions.

"They're supposed to provide for us an updated curriculum that eliminates all of the religious components," Fedewa said. "It's a public school, so it can't have any sort of religious connection whatsoever, at any time."

Because of that change, the school has to show a revised charter plan. Then it goes to the state Board of Education for final approval.

"They have to comply with what we're asking and the board has to agree and they have to provide the revisions," Fedewa said.

Despite the loss of TM and Natural Law, Beall said the school "still will have a very strong academic program" with an international focus, individual learning plans, an inquiry-based approach to learning and an environmental science emphasis. He said the 36-acre site, with streams and wetlands, will enhance the science program.

Although the school won't have TM to reduce stress, Beall said other relaxation methods will be used, such as quiet time and daily physical activity.

The school's first-year capacity is 320 students. He said the school continues to have a waiting list, with more than 550 students registered. About 60 percent of those are from Mecklenburg County and the rest from Cabarrus and a handful of other places.

The school is scheduled to open Aug. 16.

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