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Charter school fails again with bid to open in Allentown School District

Allentown City Hall, Allentown Arts Park, Lehigh County Jail, prison, Allentown Center City, Lehigh Valley, Allentown School District
Donna S. Fisher
For LehighValleyNews.com
The Allentown School Board again rejected the Lehigh Valley STEAM Academy Charter School's application to open in the city.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Officials for a local charter school will be hoping for better outcomes Monday night than they received last week in Allentown.

The Allentown School Board unanimously rejected the Lehigh Valley STEAM Academy Charter School’s application to open in the district. The charter school also failed last year with a bid to open in Allentown.

Executives from the Lehigh Valley STEAM Academy are due to seek approval Monday night to open in Bethlehem and Whitehall-Coplay school districts, days after their latest setback in Allentown.

The charter school has faced high hurdles in its push to launch a new facility in Allentown since late 2022.

Allentown School Board members denied the Lehigh Valley STEAM Academy Charter School in February after several hearings about its proposal.

School executives also had trouble with securing a location during the application period.

Executives from the company sought approval last year from city officials to open the school in a vacant office building located on an industrial lot in South Allentown.

But Allentown City Council voted 7-0 to reject a zoning amendment proposed by charter school executives that would’ve enabled the project to move forward despite its zoning, which prohibits schools.

Allentown School Board members denied the Lehigh Valley STEAM Academy Charter School's proposal after several hearings.

School district attorney Loren Szczesny told council members it’s “simply not good planning” to allow schools to operate in industrial zones, while Facilities Director Thomas Smith said industrial zones have “inherent risks for spills, wastes, accidents,” traffic and pollution that children should not be around.

Certified planner Thomas Comitta also warned the proposed zoning amendment could have been viewed as spot-zoning, an unconstitutional practice of singling out properties for special treatment.

The most recent proposal, if approved, would have seen the school open downtown.

Charter school executives tried to appeal the Allentown School District’s decision but couldn’t collect enough signatures.

The Lehigh Valley STEAM Academy Charter School resubmitted its application in December after making changes to put a “stronger” emphasis on its STEAM-curriculum.

The academy’s school year would have started on Aug. 26 for students in kindergarten through third grade.

The organization plans to add a new grade level each year until it serves students through eighth grade.

The application predicts the charter school’s Allentown facility would have about 600 students across those nine grades.