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Lagniappe Academies cuts instructional time to prepare for school’s closing

Monday marked the beginning of the end at soon-to-close Lagniappe Academies as the school began dismissing students early for the remainder of the school year, which will unexpectedly end a month early.

The five-year-old charter school had planned to educate students until June 4, but the youngsters’ new last day is May 8, according to a letter sent home to parents yesterday. In March, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted not to renew Lagniappe’s charter amid concerns of special education wrongdoing, effectively shuttering the school at the end of June.

The board’s March vote came one week after the Louisiana Department of Education released a 160-page report alleging numerous special education violations. Since then, Lagniappe’s top three leaders have resigned. Now the school’s close-out is in the hands of a willing team of teachers.

Board members discussed closing early at a recent meeting, and two weeks ago, teachers notified parents in an April 17 letter that May 15 would be students’ last day. A second letter, sent yesterday, moved the final day up to May 8. The school day now ends at 3 p.m., instead of 5 p.m.

“This updated closing (date) is a terrible decision,” parent Anthony Parker said.

Not only is the change compromising family schedules, but he said the fact that children are losing valuable time in the classroom is upsetting — especially because they will be transferring to new schools next year and he doesn’t want students to fall behind academically.

“Once again, it’s coming down to the value of a dollar is more than the value of a child’s future,” he said.

State law requires traditional public schools to provide the equivalent of 360 minutes of daily instructional time for 177 days each school year. Schools may adjust the length and number of school days as long as the total satisfies the requirement.

But charters are not bound to the state’s instructional minute requirement, Louisiana Department of Education spokesman Ken Pastorick said.

It’s one of the many dispensations state law gives charters. In exchange, the nonprofits that operate charters ultimately are held responsible for the academic, financial and organizational outcomes of their schools — which can result in a renewal, extension, nonrenewal or revocation of the charter.

In the case of Lagniappe, the nonrenewal means the charter contract ends June 30, the wrap-up of the fiscal year for schools. The nonprofit that holds that contract will still exist, and can perform functions such as the school’s final audit and required tax reporting.

Pastorick said the school can close early under a few conditions.

“Lagniappe Academies would be required to complete all statewide assessment requirements,” he said.

Additionally, he said, before closing-out, the school would have to ensure special education students had received make-up services if needed. A fall report cited the school for failing to provide special education services to some students.

The school also has to ensure there is a plan in place for students who need make-up class time this summer.

The only students who might be found on campus after May 8 would be those who need to complete state tests, according to the second letter.

Board member Emily Gummer confirmed the early closing Monday evening. She said she attended a Monday afternoon parent meeting along with board member Dan Henderson.

Henderson said required make-up special education services should be fulfilled by May 15. With an extra push, the requirements will be met “particularly with some help from the State,” he wrote in an email.

Henderson said they are working to partner with other charter schools to provide students with  summer remediation.

The board has hired consultant Joe Daschbach, Lagniappe’s previous chief operating officer,  to aid the teachers and in dispensing of the school’s modular buildings.

The charter still owes roughly $900,000 on the buildings that sit in a Treme parking lot where they house the school’s 177 students, Henderson said.

Henderson said he believes the Recovery School District, Lagniappe’s authorizer, should take the buildings — and the remainder of the mortgage. When a charter school closes, Louisiana law says its assets revert to the state. The law doesn’t specify what happens to debt, but Pastorick made the state’s position clear.

“No debt is transferred to the authorizer,” Pastorick said.

Parent advocate Karran Harper Royal said it was a shame the school had to close early to handle the business side of things, especially because the administrators named in the report are no longer at the school.

Royal and Parker have both been present at numerous board meetings since the decision to close was announced. The decision to close early hits even closer to home for Parker, whose son is finishing kindergarten at the school this year.

“The fact that they are willing to take a month of learning away from my son is unfair,” Parker said.

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About Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.

  • Lee Barrios

    How do you “make up” special education services for those students who suffered under the previous ILLEGAL actions by administration? BESE and John White will INSIST that charters have to follow the same rules as traditional public schools. That is just one of many lies the public hears from them. Once again, children are the victims of BESE’s privatization efforts. When will they and John White be held accountable? When will the story of closing charters be portrayed as FAILURES rather than a beneficial product of “true accountability?” When will our African American legislators GET THE PICTURE that black children, ELL and special needs children are being EXPLOITED and that the Urban League, DFER and other organizations ruled by the corporate elitists that finance the campaigns of politicians. Instead they either believe or pretend to believe that standardized tests will cure the racial inequities that are first and foremost a product of poverty when in fact standardized tests measure poverty and the resulting scores for schools reflect that.

  • Ailuri

    This is so messed up! These kids are already going through a bunch of upheaval with their school closing and now they’re getting their education for the year cut short.
    The BESE should be bending over backwards to make the transition for these kids as easy as possible and should be doing whatever is necessary to ensure that these children don’t get anything else taken away from them- including valuable learning time.

  • HalfFullClass

    “State law requires traditional public schools to provide the equivalent of 360 minutes of daily instructional time for 177 days each school year. Schools may adjust the length and number of school days as long as the total satisfies the requirement.
    But charters are not bound to the state’s instructional minute requirement, Louisiana Department of Education spokesman Ken Pastorick said.”

    A Traditional public school must provide 63,720 minutes of instructional time annually and a chARTer is not bound…
    What other “special” privileges are charters given?

    1. Freedom to hire non-certified teachers
    2. No Teacher Retirement System to pay into
    3. “One-year at-will” contracts for all employees
    4. Three to Five year contracts to cash checks and take no excuses
    5. State funding of TFA two-year wonders ($820,000 in 2014)
    6. LA DOE employs an entire department dedicated to opening new charters
    These are only the ones that we know about.

    How many other normal educational requirements are charters free to ignore?
    Seems we only find about these exceptions when the next charter is closed?
    Please, stop experimenting on our children,

  • nickelndime

    Holy BatCrap, “HalfFullClass.” I’m am NOT even here (LaToya sent me over the edge and I had to leave), but I am rolling on the floor. This is like the uptown traffic disruptions with drainage projects and streetcars. It is always going on and it will never end as long as there is public money and the general public (well, most of it) “believes” it will be better when it is completed. There is so much irony here, I must stop myself. 05/05/2015 8:30 PM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    BTW – I know Paul Pastorek returned to Louisiana to share in the profits of the nonprofits he helped usher into the state, when he was the superintendent. But, what has he done to his last name – bastardized it? Well, you can’t fool everyone, Paul! Changing your name to Pastorick might fool the Louisiana legislators, BESE, Jindal, and the general public, but we THE LENS readers know it’s you. We “smell” a rat! 05/05/2015 8:36 PM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    “Bobby” changed his first name, but we saw through that too. It’s like when the Vietnamese take “popular” American first names – Cyndi, Lorna, Danni…We may have arrived here as immigrants, but when we leave, we are taking our money. Tear up St. Charles Avenue. Onward! – never-ending drainage projects and streetcar tracks! Build new public schools – but not playgrounds. I ain’t paying for it anymore. 05/05/2015 8:46 PM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    It’s not just that I wouldn’t vote for LaToya Cantrell for mayor. Now, it’s that I wouldn’t and couldn’t. Gosh, that feels good. 05/05/2015 8:49 PM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    Put the Lagniappe portables on Dobard’s AMEX card. The State RSD will cover it. Geeze, Louise. They’ve got billions. 05/06/2015 2:47 AM DST USA