The New Jersey Education Law Center has gone to court to try to reverse state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf's decision to approve the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy Renaissance school in Camden.
In a filing in Superior Court on behalf of some city residents and regional organizations, the law center, which represents students in failing school districts, says the KIPP application does not follow the law with regard to three of its five proposed schools.
In March, Cerf signed off on an agreement between the Camden Board of Education and the nonprofit to build five partly private, partly public schools in the city.
School founders hope to open the first in fall 2014 on a site in Lanning Square that was long reserved for a traditional public school. The second school will be opened at the same site later, but the other three locations have yet to be identified.
The KIPP application defined its "campus" as the entire city, drawing criticism from David Sciarra, executive director of the New Jersey Education Law Center. Sciarra and those involved in the appeal say a campus should have more narrowly defined boundaries.
Other concerns include "construction time frame, and preliminary admissions policies for three of the five schools are not identified; the Camden City Public School District's long-range facilities plan was not modified as required," according to the April 25 notice that the law center announced Monday.
The Urban Hope Act, sponsored by State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden) and signed into law last year by Gov. Christie, gives school boards the power to approve up to four Renaissance projects each in Camden, Trenton, and Newark. Only Camden has made use of the statute.
"There are very little specifics on three of the five projects that are envisioned," said law center attorney Ruth Lowenkron. "There shouldn't be blanket approval."
The concern, Lowenkron said, is that the approval of KIPP's application - without concrete plans for three of the proposed schools - sets a precedent for Renaissance school projects to be approved with few specifics.
The Department of Education does not comment on litigation, said spokeswoman Barbara Morgan.
KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy was created in a partnership among KIPP, one of the largest charter school networks in the country; the Cooper Foundation, the charitable arm of Cooper University Hospital; and the Norcross Foundation.
The Norcross Foundation was established by the family of Norcross and his brother, George E. Norcross III, chairman of Cooper University Hospital, a Democratic leader, and a managing partner of the company that owns The Inquirer. George Norcross' daughter, Alessandra, a director of the parent company of The Inquirer, is an officer of the foundation and a board member of KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy.
In the appeal, the Education Law Center is representing the Camden High School Alumni Association, Philadelphia Area Black Radical Congress, Save the Public Schools Coalition, United for Peace and Justice's Delaware Valley Network Education Committee, and Camden residents Jose E. Delgado, Gary Frazier, and Mo'Neke Ragsdale.