Atlanta Public Schools voted unanimously tonight to deny an application for a public charter school for students with special needs. The school, Tapestry Public Charter Schools Atlanta (TPCA), wanted to duplicate their model in Doraville by opening a new start-up charter school in Atlanta Public Schools for the 2024-2025 school year.
According to the petition submitted by TPCA in March of this year, “the proposed school would serve 301 students in grades 6-12 and would focus on “an inclusive, individualized learning environment that is academically engaging both for neurotypical students and those on the autism spectrum, and to create a positive school culture that empowers all students to take possession of their innate talents and become creative builders of their own futures.”
Board member Jennifer McDonald who represents the North Atlanta cluster, spoke at tonight’s meeting, “We have a responsibility here on the Board. But a lot of us are parents too, right? I hear you. There’s nothing you would not do to help your child. And it breaks my heart and many of you and many people who have been coming to public comment for months. I appreciate how much you have poured out. It resonates and it’s important and we are listening.”
There were three concerns from the APS administration with bringing the public charter to APS including the impact on school enrollment, staffing shortages, and demographic concerns. During the meeting, supporters of Tapestry wore red to the school board meeting. Many Atlanta Board of Education discussed the need for more support for students with special needs but spoke about the timing of the petition.
Currently, APS school facilities have less than 65% utilization based on student enrollment vs. facility capacity including several high schools. In addition, APS has a shortage of qualified, experienced special education teachers, paraprofessionals, and service providers.
Another concern presented by the findings of the APS administration is that at the existing Dekalb County Schools Tapestry Public Schools, there were concerns about the lack of representation that persists at the DeKalb location and has not been rectified despite multiple charter terms. Currently, Tapestry Dekalb enrolls a higher share of white students compared to their representation in the DeKalb County Public School district broadly (40.3% vs. 10.3%,) and a lower share of students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds (7.5% vs 34.6%).
Many parents, like Rebecca Rose, who came in support of Tapestry Public Charter Schools spoke about the need for their neurotypical kids to have a rigorous experience despite what happens at typical schools.
“The name tapestry implies different threads. For us it’s different origins, languages, ethnicities, gifts, and how we process information. Tapestry means vibrancy and diversity. Otherwise, we would need another school name. Because Tapestry not only represents a multi-ethnic Dekalb County and its attendees. But also has the qualifications to welcome neurotypical and diverse students. Tapestry is more diverse than most Georgia Schools and APS students deserve a chance to experience what Tapestry has to offer.”
At the time of denial, the proposed charter had approximately 500 signatures of individuals who identified themselves as parents of students who live within the APS attendance zone and who indicated they would send their students to Tapestry Public Charta School Atlanta if approved.