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KIPP Leadership employee falsified records to admit children too young for kindergarten

A KIPP Leadership charter school employee falsified records in order to make it appear that six underage students were eligible for kindergarten this year, according to the state Department of Education.

The incident violated enrollment policies and state law that requires kindergarten students to be five years old by September 30.

The state notified KIPP New Orleans about a complaint involving one child in early August. The charter network, which runs seven schools, then discovered five more incidents.

The state issued a formal warning on Oct. 4.

“We share the Department of Education’s disappointment in the actions of the staff member in question,” charter group spokesman Jonathan Bertsch wrote in an emailed statement.

The staffer is still employed, Bertsch wrote, but has “been the subject of internal corrective action due to this incident.”

He said the students remain enrolled, but they will not be eligible for state funding this school year. They will be allowed to repeat kindergarten next year, and KIPP will then receive state funding.

On Aug. 1, a parent told a staffer for EnrollNOLA, the city’s centralized enrollment lottery system, that a KIPP Leadership employee had altered her child’s birthdate on the application. Gabriela Fighetti, who oversees EnrollNOLA, began an inquiry.

Two days later, Fighetti confirmed the report with the school. The employee admitted altering the student’s birthdate “in order to meet the date cut-off for kindergarten,” she wrote in a letter cited as evidence in the state’s warning.

Bertsch said the charter network reviewed kindergarten enrollment files at its five elementary schools and found “that a small number of additional underage students were in fact enrolled in kindergarten at the school.”

Bertsch didn’t respond to inquiries for the employee’s name or why he had changed the students’ birthdates.

The problem was isolated to KIPP Leadership, a C-rated school.

The formal warning is the second of three levels of warning a state-supervised charter school can receive.

The charter group’s board president had to sign a letter attesting to the organization’s understanding of state law, and the school had to submit to an unannounced on-site audit of student birthdate data and supporting documents.

The Department of Education sent the charter network a letter Wednesday indicating it has completed those steps and the school has returned to good standing.

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