Laurel Oaks Charter School, front of school Wednesday Sept.JPG

A committee of Louisiana's top school board Tuesday recommended revoking the charter for Laurel Oaks Charter School in Baton Rouge over concerns about the safety of students, questionable financial practices and other issues.

The entire state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is expected to go along with the recommendation during its meeting on Thursday.

The panel's conclusion followed a lengthy hearing about issues with the school, which opened in 2016.

The school, which is at 440 N. Foster Drive, has 92 students from kindergarten through second grade.

It has not received a state-issued letter grade or school performance score because the students are not old enough to be tested.

The state Department of Education recommended the charter revocation because of what it said were student health, safety and welfare deficiencies and the school's failure to meet fiscal management bench marks.

Dana Peterson, assistant state superintendent, said Laurel Oaks employed staff members without sufficient background checks.

Peterson said two teachers employed by the school had been convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

He also said two loans to the school took place without proper approval of the board.

Peterson, who helps oversee charter schools in Baton Rouge, said the department received complaints from current and former staff and board members.

While charter revocations are rare, the action Tuesday marked the second of its kind in two days.

On Monday the same BESE committee recommended the closing of Smothers Academy Preparatory School in Jefferson Parish, and that action also faces a vote by the full board on Thursday.

Jerry Arbour, who represents Laurel Oaks, disputed much of the evidence offered by state officials during the triallike testimony.

Arbour, a former member of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, said members of the Laurel Oaks board were rank-and-file citizens without business backgrounds.

Testimony during the hearing included mention of an incident in 2017 when the founder of the school, Shafeeq Shamsid-Deen, was accused of locking a 5-year-old girl in a closet, which led to his arrest.

He was suspended and later replaced.

Under questioning by Arbour, Peterson said there have been no similar incidents following the closet episode.

"But I do believe that issues have continued to swirl around the school that are not healthy and aren't issues that contribute to a great school environment," Peterson said.

Stefanie Ashford, former board member and later head of the school, said she quickly responded to state concerns about student safety and financial practices.

Charter schools are public schools run by nongovernmental boards.

They are supposed to offer innovative education methods without the red tape associated with traditional public schools.

About 80,000 students attend the state's roughly 150 charter schools statewide, and charters dominate the public education landscape in New Orleans.

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