Accusations that the Recovery School District overloaded Joseph Craig Elementary School with special-needs students was a focus of the Nov. 13 meeting of Friends of King Schools, the board responsible for Craig as well as for Martin Luther King Science and Technology Charter School.

Officials estimate close to 100 Craig students have special needs and that some of them were classified as regular students before Friends of King took over earlier this year, board attorney Tracie Washington said.

“RSD could not, and would not provide info on our special-needs kids,” Washington said, referring to the Recovery School District.  “A third of our population is special needs, because this was the dumping ground school.”

President Hilda Young said student evaluations were only half completed by the Recovery School District, which ran Craig before the takeover. Washington said Craig’s staff is trying to complete the paperwork.

Contacted after the meeting officials at the Recovery School District disagreed with the characterization of its record-keeping.  No special-needs students were reclassified as general education when Friends of King took over the school, Deputy Superintendent DeLano Ford said. Ford agreed that some students may have been in the process of being evaluated for special-needs status and might still be classified as general ed.  However, he said all of the paperwork was turned over to Craig, and it is now their responsibility to complete it.

Rachel Stafford, the RSD’s executive director of special education, could not provide exact numbers on how many students were in mid-evaluation when Friends of King took over, but she took issue with the board’s claim that it was upwards of 100 students.

“Honestly, Friends of King has not expressed to us those types of numbers,” Stafford said. “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”

The Lens has requested totals on the number of special-education students before and after the change in leadership and will make these available if and when we receive them.

King Schools leader Doris Hicks stressed that Craig was continuing to provide special-needs services to the students, despite the added expense.  “Bottom line is, we’re missing thousands of dollars for students,” she said, estimating the costs of reevaluating students at $2,500 per pupil.

Board member Gail Amant expressed concern about the potentially negative impact on school performance scores: “I hope you realize this, Doris.” To which Hicks replied: “Of course we realize it.”

In other business, the board voted to open a student activity account for Craig and to add King High School principal Lindsey Moore as signatory on her school’s student activity account.

With a January deadline pending should King schools choose to seek a change in governance, the board discussed whether to leave the Recovery School District and become part of the Orleans Parish School Board’s portfolio of schools. “We have an option to opt out of RSD,” Washington said. “We have some real issues they were going to look into, the biggest being what happens to your autonomy.”

Charters under OPSB are not granted Local Education Agency (LEA) status, meaning the school would have less autonomy, and some funding sources would be funneled through OPSB, which takes a cut of the money.

Colleston Morgan, with the Charter Schools Office of OPSB, was present at the meeting to address some of the board’s concerns.  He said OPSB largely agreed that charters should have LEA status.  “It’s a state legislative issue.  We agree that the schools should have that status.”

“There may be the issue of the devil you know and the devil you don’t know,” Washington said.  She said she was not convinced that OPSB wanted to see a high school built to house Martin Luther King’s upper grades.

In answer to a question about community input, Washington said the board would hear from the public before making a decision on governance.

Board member Kenya Rounds said that following the state’s open-meetings law was one way the board received public input. However, the agenda for this month’s board meeting was not provided to the public in advance of the meeting, as required by law, and the agenda distributed at the meeting stated incorrectly that no agenda items would be voted on. In addition, the school’s website incorrectly listed both King and Craig schools as the location of this month’s meeting.

Present in addition to Young, Hicks, Amant and Washington were George Rabb, treasurer; Eartha Johnson, Sandra Monroe, Craig principal Ora Wiley, finance director Shawne Favre, enrollment director Gloria Miles, and project manager Sylvia Arcenaux-Ellison.