desks school stock classroom

Advocate file photo of school desks.

Less than four years after authorizing the school, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted Thursday to close Laurel Oaks Charter School in Baton Rouge.

The vote took place without discussion.

While a BESE committee earlier this week recommended that the school lose its charter, the full board had the final say.

Opponents opted not to make any final pitch to keep the school open.

The 11-member panel also voted without controversy to remove the charter of Smothers Academy Preparatory School in Jefferson Parish.

School supporters fought the action on Monday and Tuesday during day-long hearings on allegations surrounding both schools.

A total of 23 witnesses testified during the two sessions.

BESE has only revoked two charters previously, with the last one in 2011, state officials said.

That closure targeted Abramson Science and Technology School in New Orleans.

Laurel Oaks lost its charter amid charges that the school was negligent on student health and safety and failed to meet accepted standards for financial management.

State officials said teachers failed to undergo proper criminal background checks.

The school, which is located at 440 N. Foster Drive, has 92 students in kindergarten, first and second grades.

It opened in 2016 after BESE overturned a decision by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board that denied its application.

Local officials fiercely opposed state authorization of Laurel Oaks, including East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake.

Supporters said in 2015 that the school would prepare students for academically rigorous high schools with an emphasis on character development and extended instructional time for math and literacy.

But the school suffered from staff turnover, controversial financial decisions and a high-profile incident in which the school's founder was accused of locking a 5-year-old girl in a closet as a disciplinary measure.

Charter schools are public schools operated by non-governmental boards through charters issued by state or local boards.

The state has nearly 720,000 public school students and roughly 1,300 schools.

About 80,000 students attend Louisiana's approximately 150 charter schools, which have taken over the public education landscape in New Orleans since 2005.

Caroline Roemer, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, said her group supports BESE's action on both schools because they have to be accountable.

“The opportunity to serve students is a privilege and comes with great responsibility to both improve academic outcomes for students and to be good stewards of public dollars," she said in a statement. "These schools failed to meet those minimum criteria."

Roemer was at the meeting Thursday.

BESE concluded that Smothers Academy failed to comply with federal special education rules, common accounting standards and board policies.

Steps are being planned to aid the families of students in both schools.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School District will host an open house for students and families of Laurel Oaks Academy on July 2 at the Instructional Resource Center, 1022 S. Foster Drive.

Sessions are scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Families can also contact transition specialists at 225-922-5416 or 225-922-5578.

Other information is available at ebrschools.org.

Families of students who attended Smothers will get letters from the Jefferson Parish School District about schools in their attendance zone along with an invitation for school registration.

Information is also available at jppsscustomerfeedback@jppss.k12.la.us.

Report card information on public schools is available at louisianaschools.com and other information at louisianabelieves.com/schools.


Email Will Sentell @wsentell@theadvocate.com.