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

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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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