Charter Schools
 

Algiers Charter network spent $100,000 to investigate Landry-Walker cheating

The Algiers Charter Schools Association spent $100,000 on the cheating investigation that snared the longtime principal at its flagship high school and led to her firing, according to legal invoices.

Landry-Walker High School principal Mary Laurie was placed on paid leave in February upon the public learning her students’ state test scores dropped between 2013-14 and 2014-15 — when external test monitors were added to observe classrooms during state testing.

Her suspension, along with that of three other employees, came just days after NOLA.com publicized the results of the charter network’s internal investigation. Two months later, she no longer appeared on the payroll, and in early August she was in court to challenge her dismissal.  Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese found she did not have any tenure protection and could therefore be fired with no explanation or chance to defend herself.

In an email Wednesday afternoon, Laurie’s attorney Willie Zanders said the case is not closed yet.

“Judge Reese gave us 45 days to amend our lawsuit — but we are also considering a new and expanded lawsuit in federal court as opposed to continuing in state court,” he said.

The day news of the investigation broke, State Superintendent John White emailed state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education reassuring them that the department had systems in place to detect and monitor such activity. He said the Landry-Walker irregularities were detected when state test results came out and were referred to the Inspector General’s office in the fall of 2014.

The allegations shook the education community and in response, all Recovery School District charter schools vowed to hire third-party test monitors to observe state testing.

The Landry-Walker news came just two weeks after the state published a lengthy investigation into ReNEW Schools’ SciTech Academy. The majority of the SciTech investigation involved special education wrongdoing, but it also found educators had breached testing procedures.

In December 2014, Algiers’ CEO Adrian Morgan signed  an engagement letter with the Stone Pigman Walter Wittmann law firm to investigate allegations of cheating.

Asked whether Morgan had the authority to launch such an investigation, Algiers spokeswoman Tammi Major said it was approved by then-board president D’Juan Hernandez. Neither she nor board President John Edwards responded to an inquiry asking if the board approved such a move.

The bills include the services of Next Generation Investigative Services LLC for $46,000, and Investigative Research Group Inc. for $6,000.

The invoices indicate Laurie should have known about the probe in general, if not its specifics.  Laurie’s signature appears on a December purchase order “Re: Internal Investigation/Landry-Walker Invoice #211070” in the amount of $5,126.53.

Laurie’s attorney Willie Zanders said she was unaware she was the target of any investigation, according to NOLA.com.

The Lens’ repeated requests for Laurie’s employment status to the network sometimes went unanswered. Other times a network spokeswoman said they would not discuss “personnel matters.” In early August, NOLA.com reported she was suing the network.

The Lens first requested legal invoices from the charter network on March 2. We received them in July. The Lens has also requested the report produced by Stone Pigman, but the charter network has argued it is protected by attorney-client privilege.

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