Putting Education Reform To The Test

Pinellas School Board Recommends Closing Charter School With Scientology Ties

Pinellas County school

Pinellas County schools interim superintendent John Stewart recommended closing Life Force Arts and Technology Academy.

Bonnie Harvin says her 11-year-old daughter is doing well at Life Force Arts and Technology Academy in Clearwater.

“She’s a straight A student,” says Harvin. “Her FCAT scores are above grade level. So yes, I do think she has improves. A lot”

But Pinellas County school board members say the evidence to close Life Force is “overwhelming.” The charter school is in bankruptcy, it changed its curriculum without permission and it’s failing to serve students with disabilities.

“If corrections can not be made then I think we should close the school,” says school board member Carol Cook.

The school uses a controversial curriculum from the Church of Scientology, first reported by the Tampa Bay Times. But school board members said Scientology did not affect their decision.

Sarah Parker teaches 1st grade at Life Force Academy. She says the school does not teach religion.

“I don’t know anything about Scientology,” says Parker, who is Episcopal. “So to imply I was pushing Scientology. I’m sorry I wasn’t.”

Harvin says she’s more worried about where her daughter will attend school next year.

“If it needs to be closed down then I don’t have a problem with that,” she says. “But I have a problem with not having any direction for parents on where the children are going to go.”

Harvin says she has missed the deadlines for county magnet programs or other charter schools. She does not want to send her daughter to their neighborhood school, Sandy Lane Elementary.

“The schools that are in the area are ‘D’ and ‘F’-rated schools,” Harvin says.

Life Force Academy has 90 days to appeal the school board’s decision. The school filed for bankruptcy in July, which may affect the school district’s ability to close Life Force Academy.


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