As of last fall, three military-style Acclaim Academy charter schools enrolled more than 1,100 students in North and Central Florida, according to state Department of Education records. A fourth school was set to open in Palm Beach County this coming August.
Acclaim’s Osceola County charter school was forced to shut down earlier this semester after receiving two consecutive F grades from the state, though the school district stepped in to keep it open through the end of the school year.
On Wednesday, news spread that its remaining schools, in Orange and Duval Counties, would be shutting down this week, before the end of the school year. Media reports indicate the impending closures took parents and teachers by surprise.
In Orange County, Dennis Mope, Acclaim’s CEO, ducked questions from WESH TV news reporters who followed him to a black SUV.
In Duval, Nikolai Vitti, the district’s superintendent known for having nuanced views on charters, responded by calling for changes to the state’s charter school laws, according to the Florida Times-Union:
“All charters are not created equally,” he said. “As a state we’re not differentiating among proven charter organizations and upstarts … who do not have the financial and educational infrastructure to ensure sustainability.”
Many charter school operators and their supporters have become increasingly vocal about the need to curb unqualified charter schools. They have called for changes that would help districts screen the academic and financial track records of proposed charters, while allowing quality schools to expand.
Bills aimed at doing that had advanced this year, but failed in the tumultuous final days of a legislative session that ended suddenly. The changes are likely on the to-do list for next year.
State records show Acclaim applied to open four more schools in late 2013, but later withdrew its applications in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Lee and Volusia Counties. Charter operators sometimes pull their applications before school boards vote on them to avoid outright denials that might blemish their reputations.
Acclaim’s website is “suspended.” Emails to school leaders at Acclaim addresses were returned as undeliverable. An email to Mope’s AOL account seeking comment was not immediately returned Wednesday evening.