On Tuesday, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) released a scathing report detailing the findings from an investigation into Lagniappe Academies by LDOE and Recovery School District (RSD) officials. The accusations in the report [see full report below] include:

  • Failing to provide legally-mandated services to special education students, then doctoring forms to make it appear as if those services had been provided
  • Creating a “Do Not Call” list of families who administrators did not want to return to the school
  • Attempting to deceive LDOE inspectors by hastily assembling a special education classroom that did not in fact exist
  • Ignoring requests by parents seeking special education evaluations for their children
  • Retaining a nearly a third of students at the end of the 2013-14 school year, but in many cases, failing to notify parents of those decisions
Lagniappe's principal, Kendall Petri, welcomes a student to school after checking to make sure she doesn't have an IEP.
Lagniappe’s principal, Kendall Petri, welcomes a student to school after checking to make sure she doesn’t have an IEP.

The report makes clear that responsibility for these acts lay with the school’s leadership, in particular, Principal Kendall Petri and Alison McCormick, the school’s Director of Positive Education, a title which would be almost laughable if the claims against the school weren’t so serious. According to LDOE, Petri told the school’s special education coordinator that SPED was not a priority and discouraged teachers from spending time addressing the needs of identified students. The report also claims McCormick encouraged teachers to cheat on standardized tests and then disparaged whistleblowers who cooperated with the state’s investigation.

Alison McCormick, who urged staff to falsify documents and disparaged both teachers and parents alike, serves as Lagniappe's "Director of Positive Education" - no seriously, that's her title.
Alison McCormick, who urged staff to falsify documents and cheat on tests, serves as Lagniappe’s “Director of Positive Education” – no seriously, that’s her title.

It’s also clear that Lagniappe’s board bears responsibility by virtue of their woeful lack of oversight – a lapse compounded by the outright denial of the problems by some board members. For example, in an interview with the Times-Picayune, Vice Chair Dan Henderson called the report, “a big distraction,” and raised the possibility that the board might sue the state.

Lagniappe officials’ callous disregard for the welfare of its special needs students and their families is detestable – and if the accusations of fraudulent documentation prove to be true, they could considered criminal as well. On Wednesday, RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard released a statement announcing he would recommend that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) rescind the school’s charter. As Dobard said, “Lagniappe failed to equitably and adequately serve its students and should no longer be allowed the privilege of serving the children of New Orleans.”

CORRECTION: A previous graphic here showed Lagniappe's board of directors, whose names I pulled from Lagniappe's website. However, I subsequently learned the board list was out-of-date.
CORRECTION: A previous graphic here showed Lagniappe’s board of directors, whose names I pulled from Lagniappe’s website. However, I subsequently learned the board list was out-of-date.

On Thursday, BESE acted on Dobard’s recommendation, with all 11 members of board voting not to renew Lagniappe’s charter. The same day, Kendall Petri resigned her position as principal of Lagniappe and the RSD announced plans to ease the process for Lagniappe students to transition to new schools next year.

While the revelations of this past week are certainly disappointing, here are three points to keep in mind in the wake of the Lagniappe scandal:

I. Lagniappe’s behavior is not representative of New Orleans charters as a whole

The Lagniappe revelations are affront to those of us who have worked hard to create a fair and equitable system of public schools that serve all students regardless of race, socio-economic background, or disability status. Over the past several years, the city’s charter schools, in concert with the RSD and organizations like New Schools for New Orleans and the Louisiana Special Education Collaborative, have redoubled their efforts to ensure that special education students receive the education they deserve.

The RSD has created OneApp, a city-wide enrollment system used by all but a handful of schools managed by the Orleans Parish School Board, that is specifically structured to ensure schools can’t discriminate against students with disabilities. The district has also established a centralized expulsion hearing process to ensure that students – particularly those with special needs – are not being unfairly kicked out of schools.

OneApp, the citywide enrollment system, is specifically structured to ensure schools can’t discriminate against students with disabilities.
OneApp, the citywide enrollment system, is specifically structured to ensure schools can’t discriminate against students with disabilities.

Furthermore, the RSD has pursued innovative approaches to serving the district’s special needs population. The RSD uses a unique funding structure to distribute state Minimum Foundation Program dollars to its charters which takes into account the added costs of serving students with special needs. While every district in the state receives additional funds for SPED students, the RSD allots this money based on the disability level of each special education student enrolled at a school. The per-pupil amount ranges from $1,400 for students who require speech pathology services, to $15,000 for students with severe/profound disabilities.

Finally, the district is preparing to launch the New Orleans Therapeutic Day Program, a joint venture between the RSD and Orleans Parish School Board, that will serve students with severe behavioral health disabilities. The program will provide these students with wraparound support services including, individual, group, and family therapy, therapeutic recreation activities, and medication management.

II. New Orleans SPED students are outperforming their peers across the state

The RSD’s collective efforts to better serve special education students is having a demonstrable effect on student outcomes. Special education students in New Orleans’ charter schools receive the equivalent of an additional 3 months of instruction in reading and 2 months in math when compared to traditional public schools across the state. Furthermore, New Orleans charter schools outperform other Louisiana charters in reading and math instruction.

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 12.34.04 PM

As a result of this additional support, more special education students in New Orleans are graduating from high school. For example, the four-year cohort graduation rate for special education students in 2013 was significantly higher than the statewide average.

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 12.34.31 PM

III. RSD’s actions against Lagniappe demonstrate their commitment to equity and willingness to hold schools accountable

Critics of New Orleans’ school reforms have made all kinds of baseless accusations against the RSD. They have attempted to call into question evidence of the dramatic gains in student achievement seen since the RSD’s takeover in 2005. They accuse the RSD and LDOE of skewing data to create a false appearance of success in New Orleans charter schools. They also attempt to portray policies aimed at ensuring equity, such as city-wide access and the RSD’s insistence on closing failing schools, as unjust.

However, the actions the district have taken against Lagniappe demonstrate the RSD’s unbending commitment to ensuring all students have access to a high-quality education. After all, if the RSD was simply trying to maintain a false appearance of success, they could have very easily turned a blind eye to the unacceptable treatment of special needs students at Lagniappe. They didn’t. Instead, they conducted a thorough investigation of the abuses at the school and made the results public, then moved swiftly to rescind Lagniappe’s charter. In so doing, the RSD reaffirmed that the city’s post-Katrina public school system must serve all children, especially those with greatest needs – and that discrimination will not be tolerated.

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Which New Orleans Schools Made The Grade In 2015? – PE + CO
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Peter Cook
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Posted on 11 June 201528 April 2016 by Peter Cook comment image?iv=141″ title=”” rel=”nofollow”> The question of whether eligible Recovery School District (RSD) charters should be returned to the control of the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) has gotten a lot of attention in recent weeks, thanks to House Bill 166, a proposal from Rep. Joseph Bouie, which would have forced eligible RSD charters to return to OPSB within a year. Current law allows the board of directors of eligible charter schools to decide whether to return to OPSB.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9wiBJ5S-W8%5DAlthough House Bill 166 met its demise on the House floor on a vote of 31-62, thanks in large part to the efforts of New Orleans lawmaker Rep. Neil Abramson, Bouie’s proposal revived the long-smoldering debate about if, when, and how schools taken over by RSD should return to local control. Most notably, education commentators Andre Perry and Chris Stewart took to their blogs to debate whether schools were ready to return. Their exchange can be summed up as follows:PERRY: “Schools can return to local control if we put our minds to it!” STEWART: “Are you kidding? OPSB is a hot mess [lists several major problems]. They’re not ready.” PERRY: “Schools can return to local control if we put our minds to it! Don’t drink the haterade!” STEWART: “If trusting the judgment of those working in schools is haterade, pour me a glass.” Education bloggers Chris Stewart and Andre PerryClick here to read Perry & Stewart’s exchange over returning schools to OPSB<span class=”>Perry: New Orleans needs to run its own schools – 5/12/15 Stewart: Forcing bad government on good schools – 5/12/15 Perry: Don’t drink the haterade when talking about the New Orleans Public School Board – 5/14/15 Stewart: But seriously folks, leadership – 5/14/15 It’s no secret that I’ve been an opponent of returning eligible charters to OPSB. My opposition stems from a fear that our progress since Katrina could be slowly reversed if schools are returned to local control. On the other hand, I’m not naïve enough to believe that the current arrangement can last forever – at some point in the future, the charters now under the aegis of the RSD will be returned to local control. Therefore, before that that day comes, we as a community need to ensure that policies and structures are in place to prevent the board from slowly backsliding toward the dysfunction of the past.Below, I address the policy changes OPSB should make make before eligible RSD charters return to local control.OPSB Needs To Make Equity Its PriorityThis past year, the boards of directors of 35 out of 36 eligible schools elected to stay with the RSD and with good reason: the Orleans Parish School Board has yet to make equity its priority. Before Katrina, a two-tiered public education system existed in New Orleans. On the one hand were a handful of well-resourced, selective-admissions magnets that served middle class white and black families, and on the other, were the decrepit, perennially-failing neighborhood schools that served everyone else. Chris Stewart alluded to this disparity in his exchange with Andre Perry:

“New Orleans has always had schools that screened out poor kids to create enclaves for the black elite and the sons and daughters of bankers and doctors. I know what the other side of that coin looks like having attended schools for the other people.”

To its credit, the RSD has implemented policies aimed at maximizing equity for students and families, starting with the fact that all schools in the RSD are open-enrollment and families can apply to any school in the city. Many RSD school leaders I’ve spoken with are concerned that OPSB doesn’t share that same commitment to equity and worry that the return of RSD charters would simply recreate the two-tiered system they’ve worked so hard to eliminate.However, the very fact that each RSD charter gets to decide whether to return to OPSB gives them powerful leverage. Thus, I propose that eligible RSD charters band together and set three conditions for their return to local control:I. Require all OPSB schools to participate in the OneApp enrollment systemOne of the most important mechanisms for ensuring equity in New Orleans’ public school system is OneApp, the RSD-administered city-wide enrollment system created to make the process as fair and accessable as possible for families. Every charter school in the RSD, as well as direct-run schools under OPSB1, are required to use OneApp. However, eight elite, selective-admissions OPSB charters have chosen to retain their own application processes and timelines, and OPSB has thus far refused to require these schools to join OneApp until their charters are renewed, which in some instances won’t happen until 2021.Some believe that these schools, which tend to enroll a whiter, more affluent student population, are refusing to join OneApp as a means of deterring low-income, minority students from applying. As evidence, they point to schools like Lusher Charter, one of the highest-performing public schools in the city, which has refused to join OneApp. In truth, when one looks at the application process, it’s not hard to see why some claim it’s exclusionary, whether intentional or not.To start, Lusher sets aside a significant portion of its entering kindergarten spots for families its neighborhood preference zone [see below], an area in Uptown New Orleans that encompasses both Tulane and Loyola universities. Furthermore, Lusher has an exclusive agreement with Tulane, in which it sets aside a designated number of spots for qualified children of full-time university staff.Families outside of these two groups must vie for the small number of remaining openings and are selected according to a admissions matrix [see below], in which applicants (in most cases, pre-K students applying for kindergarten spots) are scored on the basis of a reading/math examination, a written application, and “parental involvement,” where prospective students earn points for parent attendance at a “curriculum meeting” as well as for completing a questionaire. Competition for the limited number of spots at Lusher is so fierce, it’s nearly impossible to be admitted without achieving a near-perfect score on the matrix. Enlarge Lusher’s application matrix this year. Of course, the question of whether Lusher uses these elements as a means to screen out certain families is purely speculative. To be clear, the school does serve students of all colors and backgrounds, and those fortunate enough to gain admittance most certainly receive a high-quality education. On the other hand, if you’re a single parent working two jobs to feed your family, good luck jumping through the various hoops required for admission to Lusher, or other OneApp holdouts like Lake Forest, whose application requirements are irritatingly convoluted. Lake Forest’s list of excessively long list of application requirements – and no, this isn’t a joke. But here’s the thing: Lusher and other OPSB schools that have yet to join OneApp could likely retain their admissions exams and neighborhood preferences under the unified enrollment system. The only difference is that the unallocated seats at these schools would be assigned through OneApp according to their timeline2. Parents would only have to fill out one application that covers every school in the city, making the enrollment process infinitely easier for families to navigate. Given that these holdouts are public schools that receive taxpayer money, that doesn’t seem like too much to ask.II. Require all OPSB schools to provide transportation to students free-of-charge, no matter where they live in the cityCity-wide access and a universal enrollment system doesn’t get you much if students have no way of getting to and from school each day. Therefore, RSD charters are required to provide free transportation to students regardless of where they live in the city. As The Lens highlighted in a widely-cited yet totally overblown “exposé” on charter busing back in 2013, this requirement imposes significant costs and logistical challenges for RSD charters. However, many charter school leaders believe it’s a price worth paying in order to ensure that families can access the educational options available to them. Transportation shouldn’t prevent low income families from attending any public school.Unfortunately, several OPSB charters don’t provide free transportation to students, which presents a significant obstacle to low income students who might otherwise attend these schools. As Della Hasselle reported in an piece for WWNO, Lusher offers bus service to students, but families must pay out-of-pocket for the privilege, which at the time cost somewhere between $600-$700 per year. In contrast, Ben Franklin High School provides free bus transportation for students who reside in New Orleans East, while families who live Uptown or on the Westbank must pay for the service.Of course, it goes without saying that the lack of free transportation presents a significant barrier to poor families and no doubt deters many from even applying to these schools. That shouldn’t be the case. Requiring all schools to provide free transportation would send a clear message to RSD charters that OPSB is committed to providing equitable access to its schools.III. Adopt the tiered special education funding model in use by the Recovery School DistrictI’ve addressed the RSD’s unique special education funding formula previously, so I won’t belabor the point too much. Let it suffice to say that the difference in the cost of educating a student with a speech disorder, for example, whose IEP requires five hours of therapy a week vs. the cost of educating a student with a severe physical disability who requires a full-time aide is huge. The current SPED funding model used in OPSB doesn’t take those cost differentials into consideration.However, as noted in a recent report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education, the RSD allocates special education funds based on each special needs student’s “disability category plus a student’s total weekly service minutes, tying the dollars to the actual special services a student needs.” This cost-conscious approach allows RSD charters to open their doors to special education students without having to scramble to find money to pay for the services they require. It also gives schools the flexibility to pursue innovative ways of supporting special education students, both in and out of the classroom. As a result, special education students in New Orleans charter schools are outperforming their peers across the state on several measures, including their high school graduation rate. Special needs students in NOLA graduate a higher rate than their peers across the state, no doubt thanks to the RSD’s unique SPED funding formula – graphic from CRPE.Because RSD charters currently serve a disproportionate number of the city’s special needs students, they will be reticent to return to OPSB unless the district adopts the RSD’s SPED funding approach. If OPSB wants to entice these schools back into the fold, the district needs make sure they can continue to serve their special education populations without taking a big hit to their bottom lines.Read more about Lusher’s admissions process:Equity, transparency undercut by holdouts against OneApp school admissions process
To their credit, New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School (or “Sci High”) voluntarily agreed to join OneApp back in March
The application deadline for Lusher, Lake Forest, and other schools in the Eastbank Collaborative of Charter Schools this year was January 9th – a full seven weeks before OneApp’s first round deadline on February 28th.  comment image?iv=141″ title=”” rel=”nofollow”> Related GET PE+CO UPDATES IN YOUR INBOXFill out the form below to subscribe to our newsletter and you will receive notifications of new posts by email. We will never share your information or send you unsolicited emails. Subscribe Please check your email inbox to confirm. Powered by&nbspRapidology

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Kelly McClure
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There’s a special place in hell…

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KT Cooney
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Great post. Agree with Bill! So unacceptable but glad it isn’t being swept under the rug, shows the commitment to change in the rsd

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William Murphy
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Nice post. But Peter please no more with the “SpEd students.” I know you were raised better; use person-first-language brother.

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