The board of directors for Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans voted Monday to alter enrollment regulations for kindergarten, due to changes in the law for some Louisiana charter schools.
During a contentious meeting Monday night, the board voted to adopt a plan that included abolishing one of its two pre-kindergarten classes, only to find such dramatic opposition after the vote was taken that the board ended up backtracking and decided to keep the class. The class in question, pre-K3, accepts three-year-olds.
“It’s now undecided for next school year,” board Chairman Tim Gray said about the future of the pre-K3 program at the end of the three-hour meeting.
Regardless, the pre-K4 program will see major changes by the 2014-15 school year, transforming from a mostly paid program to one that is limited to siblings of enrolled students and La4 students, or four-year-olds with economic disadvantages.
The decision about pre-K3 came from a vote that had to do with overall kindergarten enrollment from pre-K4, and parents said that the meeting was the first they had heard of the possibility of losing the younger class. During the meeting, some parents accused the board of lacking transparency, saying that they were having “flashbacks” to years past when decisions reportedly were made without public input.
At least half a dozen parents broke down in tears during the meeting, and others outwardly showed frustration as they lined up to give the board feedback about what some parents said were “bad” options. More than 50 parents showed up at Tuesday’s meeting.
“There’s a major trust issue in coming to this school,” said parent Kelly Galjour, who has a child enrolled in the school’s pre-K4 program. “We want to ensure that our children can come here to this school.”
The issue arose out of a need to alter pre-K-to-kindergarten admissions to ensure that the school has enough “at-risk” children to satisfy state requirements.
At-risk students are those who are economically disadvantaged, and can include those qualifying for free and reduced-cost lunches or are in the state’s LA4 program.
Last year, the school requested a waiver from the requirement that it hold a lottery for all paying pre-K students to enter kindergarten. But at the meeting Monday, Lycee Francais board officials said the waiver doesn’t appear to be permitted now by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The law says that, beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, all BESE-authorized charter schools in Orleans Parish are required to participate in the unified enrollment system and expulsion process established by the Recovery School District for Orleans Parish.
Additionally, BESE has new rules about lottery exemptions. The charter school’s authorizer “shall require the charter school to set enrollment targets that ensure the charter school provides equity of access for at-risk applicants to its kindergarten classes,” the law reads.
According to Gray, the target number of at-risk kindergarten students is 67 percent of the 152 they hope to accept, totaling a little more than 100 at-risk students.
Current pre-K3 enrollment is 20 students, and pre-K4 enrollment is 80. Of the 80 pre-K4 students, 33 are paying students, 19 are siblings and the other 28 are considered “at risk.”
Ultimately, the board wanted to come to a solution that would allow parents of paying pre-K students to be able to return to the school the following year.But the board still has to meet the state’s requirement of having a certain percentage of at-risk students enter kindergarten if the schools ask for an exemption from open-lottery entry into kindergarten for current pre-K students. In order to have waivers from the lottery at all for students currently in pre-K, the school is required to open a quota of spots for at-risk students.
“Many of you are here because you would like your pre-K4 students to be assured a seat in kindergarten,” board member Ann Meese said. “We’ve heard you. We’ve listened to you.”
In order to accommodate that request, an academic and recruitment committee came up with three recommendations to give the board:
Eliminate the pre-K3 program in 2014-15
Limit the the pre-K4 program to LA4 students, or four-year-olds from economically disadvantaged families, and to siblings of current students in 2014-15
Going forward in 2015-16 and beyond, pre-K4 students will consist only of LA4 students and siblings. All of those students would automatically advance to kindergarten.
If spots don’t fill from LA4 students or siblings, then the remaining slots would be made available through open lottery, board members said.
Ultimately, the plan that the board voted to adopt would request a lottery with a preference to at-risk applicants. The plan also would also seek an exemption for all current pre-K4 students but set aside the remaining kindergarten seats for at-risk students.
Under this plan, 80 current pre-K4 students at the school would be admitted to kindergarten. Additionally, 72 at-risk students chosen by lottery would enter kindergarten.
With that model, the at-risk population for kindergarten would be as high as 100, if the 72 at-risk lottery students were combined with the 20 current La4 students and 8 current free and reduced lunch students.
During a public comment period, teary-eyed parents expressed support for the option calling for an at-risk lottery but they were opposed to eliminating pre-K3 classes.
“We’ve gotten emails saying that you’re going to open up enough kindergarten classes, don’t worry,” Galjour said. “This school is everything to us. All I’m asking is that you right the wrong. Don’t make our children suffer for it.”
Parent Darren Beltz spoke out against the option of dropping the younger class.
“I am also very disappointed to hear that pre-K3 has been dropped,” Beltz said. “I’m also shocked. I go to just about every meeting and I’ve never heard anything about it.”
After other parents pressured the board for reasons behind dropping the program, the group finally received an answer that they accepted, from board member Erin Greenwald.
“We can’t afford to have pre-K3 unless we have tuition, and we can’t have tuition if we have economic diversity,” Greenwald said. “It’s a chicken-and-egg situation. It may be a fundamental problem with French education here in the city.”
The school’s CEO, Keith Bartlett, added that having a paid pre-K3 program “gives the notion of people buying their way into the school.”
And Meese said that it was a fundamental problem with all pre-kindergarten classes in New Orleans, since schools don’t get the kind of per-pupil government funding that they get for other grades.
“Our leaders have got to start taking responsibility for our pre-K students in this state,” she said.
However, because parents were so outraged at the decision to drop pre-K3, the board amended the vote during the last 10 minutes of the three-hour meeting to accept the option involving a future at-risk lottery while still maintaining pre-K3.
Board members said there would be more meetings on the matter in the near future.