Moms left upset and scrambling after KC charter school withdraws their kids

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Two Kansas City mothers believe their kids were unfairly booted from a metro charter school, and they’re upset they were only given one week to find a new school. Administrators, however, say the children live outside the district boundaries and their hands are tied by state law.

The moms told FOX 4 they enrolled their two children at the Kauffman School, a rigorous college preparatory charter school located on the south side of Kansas City, Mo., because of its exceptional educational opportunities for students.

“I enrolled my son in Kauffman for a reason,” said Shayla Hood of her 11-year-old son, who began attending the school last year. “My son needed the structure that Kauffman provided. He needed the education, everything they were offering.”

Mother Tiffany Merritt, who enrolled her 11-year-old daughter at Kauffman for the first time this year, echoed Hood’s sentiment.

“She has a 104 prep score every week,” Merritt said of her daughter’s improving grades. “She gets her homework done. She gets everything done and as a parent, it makes me feel good because I see the confidence she has in herself once she comes home.”

But both mothers had concerns over the safety of their shared bus stop at 81st and Garfield Avenue, which sits next to an abandoned house and has no sidewalks where their kids can wait for the bus.

So at the beginning of this school year, they requested a change and asked the school’s leaders to establish a new stop closer to their homes. Administrators promised to look into it, but later dropped a bombshell.

“I just received a phone call last Friday from the school,” Hood said, “saying that our address is out of the district and that they would withdrawal him from Kauffman on Friday and that I needed to find him another school to attend.”

Merritt got the same news, with administrators telling both mothers their addresses did not fall within the Kansas City, Mo., Public School District boundaries, which is required by Missouri law to attend Kauffman School. They gave the families exactly one week to find a new school.

“This has just been a very crazy situation,” Merritt said, “because as a parent, how do you explain to a child that loves a school, you got to go?”

The mothers are most upset because their ZIP code, 64132, is clearly listed as a “preferred” geographic area in Kauffman’s student handbook, and they both have proof of residency paperwork listing their addresses that was notarized by school officials before the school year began.

“I want options,” Merritt said. “I want my daughter to remain in Kauffman and I want somebody to talk to me, ‘Okay, Mrs. Merritt, even though we discovered this, this is what we need from you in order to rectify the situation.’ The only option I’m being told is we, ‘have to go.’ We have to go.”

In an email to FOX 4, Kauffman School’s Communications Director Barb Pruitt, said:

"I was able to confirm that the students you called about are within the ZIP code of [64132], which is one of the Kauffman School’s preferred ZIP code areas, but they do not live in the Kansas City Public School District boundaries. Unfortunately, Missouri state law requires charter students reside within the KCPS District. The [64132] ZIP code area includes addresses in the Central School District as well at the KCPS District.”

In response to several follow-up questions from FOX 4, Pruitt replied:

“While student’s ZIP code is one of the School’s preferred zip codes, it spans beyond the KCPS District. To comply with state law, the Kauffman School must ensure that only students within the KCPS District boundaries are enrolled. The state and the Charter School Association recommends schools conduct random address verifications.

As the form states, by signing the “Proof of Residency” form the parent or guardian is certifying that the student is a legal resident of the KCPS, not the school. The school notarizes that the parent signed and submitted it on a certain date.

The Kauffman School understands that this is a difficult situation for the student and family. Its first priority is to notify the family as soon as possible and give them enough time to find another school while still staying in compliance with the law in a timely manner.”

But these mothers argue if their addresses were a problem, the school’s leaders should've spoken up sooner so their children didn’t have to make a switch during the semester.

“Don’t just kick him out of school and really don’t have a legitimate reason behind it except for a bus stop change,” Hood said. “It just doesn`t make any sense.”

Just before FOX  4’s newscast aired Monday night, reporter Katie Banks talked on the phone with the Kauffman School’s Founder and CEO Hannah Lofthus.

Lofthus described this situation as “complicated” and “heartbreaking.” She said she never wants to put a child out, but her hands are simply tied by state law. She is, however, willing to meet with both mothers Tuesday to talk about possibly extending their deadline and helping them find a new school.

FOX 4’s Katie Banks also talked with Douglas Thaman, executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association, about this situation.

Thaman followed up with this email:

“I understand you had an opportunity to speak with the Kauffman School's Executive Director, Hannah Lofthus, which is great. I'm sure she relayed to you what we discussed, the school does have a process whereby parents must confirm their address is within the boundaries of the Kansas City Public School District when they are enrolling their children and when there are addresses in question the school does follow up. As we discussed, situations where children in one ZIP code are split between one or more districts can make this an even greater challenge.

In the case of this particular family I understand the school and family are meeting tomorrow evening to develop a transition plan which is what we would recommend. This doesn't surprise me as the Kauffman School personnel are responsive individuals who want to work with families to do what's best for students in accordance with State law.

As the State Association for Missouri's charter schools, after having a chance to more thoroughly review this situation, I can assure you the school is responding not only in accordance with State law but also making efforts to work with the student's family to do what is best for their education. I am confident that together the school and family will help the child to smoothly transition to a school within their attendance area.”

FOX 4 will continue to follow this story. Stay with fox4kc.com for updates.