WCS Denies Foundations Autism Charter School Application

At its last meeting, Williamson County School Board denied the application for Foundations Autism Charter School (FACS). At the end of January, FACS submitted a new-start charter school application with the projected opening of Fall 2022. The Board immediately appointed a committee of twelve educators, autism and behavioral specialists, finance specialists, and parents to review the application. The committee recommended unanimously to deny the application. The School Board unanimously voted to uphold the recommendation for denial.

Williamson County School Board Vice Chairman KC Haugh, who sat on the review committee, noted that the goal of the committee was to see if due diligence had been done by the applicant, not to compare what Williamson County Schools had to offer versus what FACS was proposing to provide.

The review committee spent more than 20 hours each reviewing the application, interviewing the applicant, and scoring their findings according to the Tennessee Charter School Application Scoring Criteria supplied by the state.

“The committee went through each section and subsections,” explained Review Committee Chair, Maria Griego, WCS Executive Director of Student Support Services.

Griego went on to explain that a charter school serving students with disabilities must do two primary things, provide Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and adhere to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This includes implementing each individual student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), evaluation of student achievement, providing a safe learning environment, and provide learning with same-aged peers as best as the student is capable.

The rubric used to access the application looked at the Academic Plan Design, Operations Plan and Capacity, and Financial Plan and Capacity. Each of these criteria and their subsets were scored separately by each individual member of the committee. To be acceptable, the plan must meet or exceed standards. Overall, the committee found the application to not meet standards in all categories.

“It was a slow process because there were areas that were out of my area of expertise,” explained Mark Samuels, WCS Assistant Superintendent of Operations, “but I had… discussions with some of the professionals about some of the areas I should be looking for…You…can be impressed with the degree pf professionalism, the degree of thought, and the degree of detail that people put into this…Frankly, it was the product that led to the result that you are seeing.”

A charter school must provide something that WCS does not provide, and FACS was proposing a school for autistic children that integrates Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy into the school day. The committee didn’t feel that this was something that WCS can’t provide.

“We do use practices of ABA in our teaching,” noted Griego. “We had two Board Certified therapists that work for the school system on the committee that were able to provide insight into the practices that WCS uses in the district.”

The final report provided to the School Board for review was 37 pages long, and quite in-depth, according to its members.

“We don’t see this very often,” said WCS School Board member Eliot Mitchell. “It was informative to see the process they go through to be vetted. Thank you.”