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Moton charter school is in trouble again for failing to serve its special-ed students

For the second time in a year, the Orleans Parish School Board has warned Robert Russa Moton Charter School that it has failed to identify students with disabilities and provide them with the extra help required by law.

Last month the Orleans Parish School Board issued an “intensive corrective action plan” — a list of all the steps the school must take to demonstrate it is following the law.

If Moton doesn’t take those steps by mid-December, the school district warned, it may lose its charter.

The school district reprimanded Moton last fall for similar problems. The district outlined the steps needed to get back on track then, too.

Moton’s charter was up for renewal at the time. Charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, must meet academic, financial and organizational standards to keep their charters.

B-rated schools like Moton typically receive six-year renewals from the Orleans Parish School Board. But Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. renewed Moton’s charter for just four, contingent on taking the steps in the first corrective action plan.

The school did not fix the problems identified last fall, according to the school district.

So now Moton has a new plan, and another chance.

The state requires all students suspected of having a disability to be identified and evaluated. In a traditional school district, the central office handles this. It falls to charter schools if they’re outside a traditional school district.

Schools have 60 days to evaluate a student after a parent gives permission or requests an evaluation. They can be expensive, along with the additional services that may be called for. A personal aide, for example, adds a new salary to a school’s budget.

Moton’s special-education population has been well below the district’s average.

For the 2014-15 school year, it reported only three percent of its students had disabilities, according to NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune. That was well below the city’s rate of 12 percent.

Other schools in New Orleans have gotten into trouble for not providing special education.

In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center sued the Orleans Parish School Board and the state on behalf of a handful of families. They claimed students with disabilities were subject to enrollment discrimination and didn’t receive legally required services.

The landmark settlement put the school district under a consent decree that requires close monitoring of the city’s charter schools.

In 2015, the state shut down Lagniappe Academies for failing to provide special-education services to students.

The larger ReNEW Schools charter network escaped closure after doctoring its special education enrollment to get more money. It had to make up the missed instructional time.

Moton’s continued problems with special-ed students

The school district flagged the latest problems at Moton in June.

In some cases, the school did not identify students with disabilities, develop special-education plans, or keep students with disabilities in class when appropriate.

Tiffanye McCoy-Thomas, the district’s director of Exceptional Child Services, wrote that one of her employees identified six instances in which Moton had improperly handled students with disabilities.

The documents don’t say exactly how many students were affected, although one cites problems with five students. Moton, located in eastern New Orleans, has about 380 students.

Schools conduct brief special-ed screenings for all their students, and they’re supposed to take note of behavioral, academic and other issues that could point to a disability of some kind.

One student with academic and behavioral problems wasn’t included in screening data, the district said.

In a response, Moton CEO Paulette Bruno acknowledged the student had been “overlooked,” but said the results of her screening were later sent to the school district.

The school fell short when it didn’t provide “tiered Intervention” to one student with academic and behavioral concerns, according to the school district. That term describes steps that can be taken with students who may have disabilities. Those steps can be taken outside formal special education.

Another student apparently received testing accommodations, but the school couldn’t provide paperwork to show what services it had provided.

Two students should have received special-education assistance but didn’t get it.

And the school suspended another student without providing a parent with the required documentation. The suspension was later reversed.

School district officials met with Bruno in June. A few days later, she disputed the findings in a letter.

In one instance, Bruno wrote, the school had talked to the parent about special ed and was waiting for permission to move forward.

Bruno wrote that she planned to add more certified staff and has hired a consultant “with special education administrative experience to monitor and guide all related issues and ensure that we are in full compliance with State and Policy going forward.”

Bruno did not respond to a request for comment.

Moton’s new corrective action plan is eight pages long. Its assignments include appointing a special education coordinator and sending the school district any letters in which a parent declined a special-ed evaluation.

A team of Moton staff must attend training provided by the district on Friday, and they must pass a test on the material.

The district’s executive director of School Performance, Dina Hasiotis, warned Bruno the school must meet the deadlines outlined in the plan.

Failure to act, she wrote, may lead to “revocation of your charter contract with OPSB.”

The district did not respond to a request for comment, saying it would generally respond to media inquiries in two to four days.

Past problems at Moton

In 2012, the local school board concluded Moton staff had given students an edge on state tests. But more than a year later, the district retracted its findings, citing a lack of evidence.

The state warned Moton that in 2015 it had enrolled a below-average share of poor students. Charter school populations are supposed to reflect the local school district’s.

The school was not required to take any action, but this summer it was forced to join the city’s centralized OneApp enrollment system.

Moton was the only school that didn’t meet the district’s standards for organizational performance during the 2015-16 school year. The district removed the school from intervention in March 2016.

Bruno has also been accused of violating the state’s nepotism law for employing two daughters-in-law. The Louisiana Board of Ethics formally charged her in 2012. Five years later, the case is unresolved.

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