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Einstein Charter Schools circumvented the city’s centralized enrollment system this fall by signing up students on its own, which the Orleans Parish School Board says violates its policies. Between Sept. 7 and Oct. 2, Einstein enrolled 26 students at three of its four schools, according to a warning letter issued in early November.

advocate file photo by Matthew Hinton

Einstein Charter Schools circumvented the city’s centralized enrollment system this fall by signing up students on its own, which the Orleans Parish School Board says violates its policies.

That undermines the integrity of the OneApp system, which is supposed to give all children in New Orleans an equal shot of getting into the public schools they want, enrollment director Gabriela Fighetti said.

“The promise of fairness and transparency with the system gets eroded” when schools enroll students who haven’t been assigned through OneApp, she said.

Between Sept. 7 and Oct. 2, Einstein enrolled 26 students at three of its four schools, according to a warning letter issued in early November by Dina Hasiotis, who oversees school performance for the Orleans Parish district. The same thing happened in the prior school year, according to another warning letter issued by EnrollNOLA, the office that oversees the OneApp.

District officials contend that enrolling students on campus undermines the citywide system and allows schools to cherry-pick students.

“When a family comes to a Family Resource Center, they are seeing all the open seats in the system,” Fighetti said. The system does not discriminate based on a family’s background, income or special-education requirements, she said.

“We can’t know, if schools are enrolling students on site, if they are being offered that same level of fairness,” she said.

In a letter to the school district, Einstein CEO Shawn Toranto said the charter network “did not deny students access to any of its schools." The noncompliance notice from the school district, she wrote, “has been issued due to accepting students whose parents chose to attend Einstein.”

Since discovering the practice, the school district has required Einstein to train staff on enrollment rules, update its student enrollment system and alert the district to any other instances of on-site enrollment. Toranto provided a letter stating the staff had been trained and agreeing to the other two requirements.

A spokeswoman for the Orleans Parish School Board wouldn’t say whether Einstein had returned to good standing. Neither would Toranto.

“The OPSB does not have a comment on this matter at this time and generally does not comment on disputes while they are ongoing,” Dominique Ellis said in an email in December.

Ellis did not respond to a request for any updates.

OneApp was created in 2012 to make the application process for charter schools fairer and easier for schools and families.

Before central enrollment, families had to submit applications for each individual school. Also, a student could be admitted to several schools, so principals weren’t sure who would show up on the first day. And parents of children with special-education needs complained they had a hard time finding a school that would take them.

All but three of the public schools in New Orleans use the new system. Charter schools that didn’t previously participate are now required to join when they receive a new charter.

Einstein opted in one year before its contract was renewed last summer.

Meanwhile, Einstein and the School Board are engaged in another dispute. The board sued the charter network in November, saying it isn’t providing free transportation to students as required.

Instead of providing transportation on school buses, Einstein offers public transit vouchers to students who request them.