The Louisiana Department of Education recommended Wednesday that a charter school in New Orleans called Lagniappe Academies be shut down. It came a day after release of a withering report that accused the Treme school of failing to accommodate students with special needs.
The decision was not a surprise. State officials said late Tuesday that an investigation revealed that administrators at Lagniappe violated federal law by ignoring the needs of students with disabilities and then tried to cover it up with false documentation. The state’s report said those accusations are backed up by more than a dozen signed affidavits from staff and parents.
Patrick Dobard, who leads the state-run Recovery School District, released a statement Wednesday saying, “Lagniappe failed to equitably and adequately serve its students and should no longer be allowed the privilege of serving the children of New Orleans.”
Dobard, whose agency took over most public schools in the city after Hurricane Katrina, continued, “What happened with Lagniappe is unfortunate, but rare, and not reflective of the state of our system as a whole.”
Marie Riccio, a lawyer representing Lagniappe, released a letter to the RSD asking for more time to respond to the state’s findings and denying that the school has failed to meet its obligations.
The school could face a preliminary vote as early as Thursday at the state school board on whether its charter gets renewed.
“The school’s administrative individuals have made a Herculean effort to gather the appropriate information, but that is still incomplete,” Riccio wrote.
Her letter also references an attached affidavit from a member of the school’s staff who denies that Lagniappe has failed to provide special education services. “This affidavit explains the circumstances underlying some of the contentions, and thus refutes the suggestion that the school employees are not trying to meet the needs of all the students,” the letter says.
Charter schools, which are publicly funded but run by private nonprofits, have faced similar accusations around the country. In New Orleans, where nearly every school operates as a charter, a class-action lawsuit resulted in a court-ordered reform plan signed just a few months ago.
Among other things it spells out how local and state officials are required to keep tabs on whether schools are accepting and providing services for students with disabilities.
For the most part, charter advocates have denied that most schools are intentionally breaking the law or willfully denying special needs students an education.
The RSD’s relatively new central enrollment system, called OneApp, is supposed to prevent schools from weeding out students they don’t want. So far, Lagniappe is one of only a few schools where state officials have publicly accused administrators of wrongdoing.
Clearly fearful that Lagniappe’s alleged transgressions will tar the rest of the district, some of the most vocal advocates of the charter movement were quick to condemn the school in public statements and on Twitter.
The group New Schools for New Orleans released a statement saying, “We applaud the Recovery School District for its commitment to ensuring equity across our system, and we support their recommendation not to renew Lagniappe Academies’ charter.”
Though disbanding a school altogether can be a wrenching proposition for families and students, the RSD has no plans to ask another charter operator to take over at Lagniappe, which has about 160 students in kindergarten through fourth grade.
Dobard’s statement acknowledged as much, saying, “We are making plans to ensure that all current Lagniappe students can access a high-quality school next year.”