AFCLL Academy Charter School

Brian Ombiji presents details on a proposed sports-infused charter school to the School District of Lancaster school board Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020.

Inconsistent. Vague. Negligent.

Those are the words School District of Lancaster administration and school board members used during a hearing Tuesday night to describe an application for a sports-infused charter school within the district's boundaries.

They castigated the application for its apparent lack of detail related to its programming and curriculum, deficient support for students learning English as a second language and students requiring special education services, conflicting and unclear information regarding staffing and budgeting, as well as its apparently nonexistent community support.

The proposed charter school, called the AFCLL Academy Charter School, would serve students in grades five through eight and focus on educating children through sports, particularly soccer. Its plan is to serve about 100 students starting in August 2021, with the hopes of doubling enrollment in five years.

Applying for the school is a group led by AFC Lancaster Lions pro soccer club founder Brian Ombiji.

To open, the charter school application must be approved by the school board. A vote is expected to occur at its Oct. 20 meeting.

According to the administration's recommendation Tuesday, it doesn't appear likely that it'll be approved.

"The administration cannot endorse this charter application," Carol Powell, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, told the board during a 20-minute presentation summarizing various concerns with the application.

Coming up short

One of major concerns Powell outlined was its lack of support for students with special needs and English language learners. The application, she said, states that additional staffing for such populations aren't necessary, "because students are hard workers."

The application also projects a nearly $5 million budget deficit in five years, raising questions about the school's sources of revenue, Powell said.

What's more, the application did not include any letters of support for the school from the Lancaster community.

Powell also questioned how, specifically, an "education through athletics" approach will foster student achievement.

School board members who spoke Tuesday also expressed major concerns with the application, especially for what school board Vice President Mara McGrann called an "absolute lack of community support."

"I'm sorry," McGrann said, speaking to Ombiji. "You need community support to do this, and there was zero indication of community support."

McGrann also seemed perturbed by the fact the school board even had to consider the application. The board also is also working to phase in students for in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

"This is an extremely negligent application, and I'm sad we're wasting our time on it right now," she said.

School board President Edith Gallagher appeared dumbfounded by the charter school's proposed budget.

"Simply adding the numbers, I was shocked and surprised," she said, later adding, "There doesn't seem to be any reason to support this application at this time."

Ombiji, who spoke briefly with LNP | LancasterOnline over the phone following the hearing, said he would provide the board with additional documents to perhaps assuage some of the concerns expressed Tuesday. He would not share what those documents would show. He also said the school has received letters of support, but he declined to share how many and from whom those letters came.

"Whatever they want, we'll give them before the next meeting," he said. "… It'll be good."

The Lancaster school board is expected to deliberate further at its Oct. 6 meeting before voting later that month.

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