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Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--Big Chief Roderick Sylvas of the Wild Tchoupitoulas hands out books at the Moton Charter School in New Orleans. Herreast Harrison, widow of Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr., looks on at bottom right.

Robert Russa Moton Charter School is facing a rare charter revocation hearing for failing to do enough to identify children who need special education, according to a notice to the school from the Orleans Parish School Board.

The school district sent the notice this month, saying the New Orleans East school had failed to take the steps required to correct problems identified in August. That was the second time the school district had spelled out what Moton had to fix in order to follow federal law and state education policy.

The letter said the school had not met the district's expectations for a corrective action plan.

The district’s warning, the most serious a charter can receive, means the charter organization must submit to a hearing before the system's superintendent, school system official Dina Hasiotis said at a School Board committee meeting last week. 

Officials have not said when the hearing will take place. 

Moton CEO Paulette Bruno said her administration was "working to put something together because we are not in agreement with what was presented to us."

Moton, a C-rated school, has 315 students, according to district data.

Based on its enrollment in October 2015, the Louisiana Department of Education flagged the charter for having a low number of identified at-risk students. The school reported only 3 percent of its students had disabilities the year before, according to Nola.com. That was well below the city’s overall rate of 12 percent.

Throughout the 2016-17 school year, Moton was supposed to take a number of steps to ensure it identified all students who needed extra help. They included telling parents about its special education resources and holding regular meetings with certain employees “so that the school consistently finds, identifies and evaluates students suspected of having a disability.”

Because it was being monitored, the parish School Board cut two years off Moton’s charter renewal last summer. Moton had a B letter grade in the fall of 2016, which would normally have earned it a six-year contract; instead, its charter was renewed for just four years.

In June, the district noted several issues, and in August it issued a new intensive corrective action plan with steps to follow throughout the fall. The district said it would reassess the school in December.

The Aug. 2 letter cautioned that failing to follow the plan could amount to “an egregious and/or a consistent violation of federal, state and local laws protecting the rights of students with disabilities. Therefore, any lack of action on this plan may lead to Tier 3 intervention and potentially revocation of your charter contract with OPSB.”

That happened this month, when the district issued a Tier 3 intervention letter — the most serious warning a charter can receive.

Schools are required to provide a free, appropriate education to all students who walk through their doors, regardless of any disability.

Traditional school districts can shift special-education resources around to maximize efficiency. But most charter school networks act as their own school districts, and single-site schools like Moton don’t have the same economies of scale.

Other charters in New Orleans, like Lagniappe Academies and ReNEW SciTech Academy, have gotten into trouble for not meeting special-education requirements and bending the rules.

The high cost of special-education services has led to a shift in the way special-education students receive funding in New Orleans’ charter-dominated system, shifting money from gifted and talented students to students with special needs.