CLINTON — The Slaughter Community Charter School is asking a judge to overturn an East Feliciana Parish School Board decision on its charter renewal, alleging the board violated the state Open Meetings Law in discussing the matter.
The charter school’s lawsuit also asks a judge to bar the School Board from further violating the law in considering how long the school’s charter should extend.
The School Board voted 7-4, along racial lines, Jan. 5 to renew the Slaughter school’s charter for three years, with a possible extension of two more years after an evaluation.
A move to renew the charter for five years was thwarted by a successful substitute motion for the three- and two-year arrangement.
Black board members Derald Spears Sr., Melvin Hollins, board President Michael Ray Bradford, Richard Terrell, Rhonda Matthews and Broderick Brooks Sr. voted for the three-year term.
White members J. Curtis Jelks, Paul Kent, Tim Corcoran and Beth Dawson voted against the substitute motion, and white member Mitchell Harrell was absent.
The lawsuit, filed March 2, names the School Board and Bradford as defendants. It was assigned to 20th Judicial District Judge William G. Carmichael’s division. No hearing has been set in the case.
Bradford declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Parish School Superintendent Carlos Sam said the board received a copy of the suit Monday and turned it over to the board’s attorney, Bob Hammonds.
“Hopefully, we can resolve our issues with the charter school and continue moving forward,” Sam said.
He said an item to consider a new operating contract between the School Board and the charter school likely will be on the agenda for a special March 16 meeting. The contract expires June 30, he said.
The charter school, a nonprofit operation that receives state funds through the School Board, has operated since the 2011-12 school year under a five-year charter and now offers middle school and high school courses in the southern part of the parish.
The suit says the School Board did not discuss the charter renewal in public, although a large group of charter school supporters was in the audience to hear the discussion.
The board discussed the matter during a closed-door, executive session called for a “strategy session and action concerning pending litigation,” with the agenda referring to a 1965 school desegregation lawsuit in which the School Board is a defendant.
After the board members returned to the meeting room, Bradford asked for a motion and members offered the two motions on the charter renewal.
The suit says the board violated state law by discussing the charter school behind closed doors after voting to discuss legal strategy.
The law allows public bodies to discuss legal strategies in ongoing litigation in executive session, but “does not allow a school board to go into executive session to discuss renewal of a charter school,” the suit says.
The suit claims the board also violated the law when it did not allow for public comment before voting on the charter renewal.
After moving to other items on the meeting agenda, Hammonds advised Bradford that he had forgotten to ask for public comment before the charter contract vote, and Bradford then opened the floor to the charter school proponents.
Lee Reid, the charter school’s attorney, then argued that the board’s policy calls for a seven-year charter renewal for schools that earn a B under the state accountability program.
The charter school had the parish’s highest school performance score, 96.9, for 2015, and earned a B in the state’s grading system.
The School Board’s discussion of the charter renewal outside of public scrutiny is “a rejection of public policy of this state”, which provides that “it is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner,” the lawsuit says.
The charter school is asking the court to overturn the Jan. 5 decision and bar it from discussing the renewal in executive session and without public comment before a vote.
The suit also seeks attorney fees from the School Board.