By Joe Earle

Atlanta school officials have accused Riverwood International Charter School of illegally recruiting Atlanta students to attend the Sandy Springs school.

“Riverwood has recruited students from Sutton Middle and North Atlanta High Schools, which is a clear violation of Georgia law,” Atlanta schools Superintendent Beverly L. Hall wrote in an April 16 letter to parents of students attending Sutton and North Atlanta. “Riverwood has assured parents that Atlanta residents could attend their school. That is simply not true.”

Atlanta schools officials took their complaint to the state Department of Education, which in April determined Riverwood “is in violation of the Charter Schools Act and its charter.”

“In order to come into compliance with the law and its charter obligations, Fulton County must immediately cease its practice of enrolling students who reside in the APS enrollment area,” Deputy Superintendent Clara J. Keith wrote in a letter posted on North Atlanta High’s Web site. Keith’s letter said Riverwood had enrolled 105 students who live in the Atlanta Public Schools’ enrollment area. The letter said Fulton County must immediately stop enrolling students who live in Atlanta or risk losing state money for students who do not live in Fulton County.

Riverwood Principal Eddie Echols said his school does not recruit students.

“We do not,” he said.

Riverwood does accept students from other districts whose families are willing to pay tuition to Fulton County, he said. The school now has 90 to 95 students from outside its district who are paying tuition, he said. The students come from DeKalb, Cobb and other districts as well as Atlanta, he said. And other Fulton County schools also accept students from outside the district who are willing to pay tuition, he said.

Echols said that Riverwood has been accepting tuition students for seven years, longer than it has been a charter school. “This has not been a problem up until this year,” he aid. “We really don’t know why the pushback.”

The dispute is being handled by county school officials, who will try to work out an agreement with Atlanta school officials allowing tuition students to attend Riverwood, Echols said.

In her letter, Keith said there must be an agreement between Fulton and Atlanta schools allowing the student transfers in order for the arrangement to be legal. “We have made it clear to Fulton County that if Riverwood wishes to enroll students who reside in the APS [Atlanta Public Schools] enrollment area in the future, it must work with APS to develop a contractual agreement regarding nonresident enrollment at Riverwood,” she wrote.

Riverwood holds an “Experience Riverwood” program each year for students interested in the school. “We do it like a showcase,” Echols said.

Other potential tuition students learn of the school from discussions among parents or students, he said.

But Atlanta officials say representatives of Riverwood have sent letters to parents in Atlanta saying their children can attend Riverwood.

“All we want them to do is stop actively recruiting our students in the absence of an agreement,” said Keith Bromery, director of media relations for the Atlanta schools.