Thursday night, the board for the Algiers Charter School Association decided to relinquish the charter for the D-rated Algiers Technology Academy, effectively closing the public school next spring. The vote was unanimous, network spokeswoman Tammi Griffin-Major said.
The words “close,” “relinquish,” “shut down” or anything that would have hinted at the closure did not appear on the meeting agenda. It simply said, “ATA Charter (action item).”
That appears to violate the state Open Meetings Law.
The law requires public bodies to meet openly and notify the public beforehand. Those notices must include an agenda that describes, with “reasonable specificity,” each matter to be discussed or decided.
Karran Harper Royal, a parent advocate, said the agenda was “disingenuously written.”
“If closure is being considered, the word ‘closure’ should be on the agenda,” she said. “To word it so vaguely shows you they’re not trying to give people fair warning.”
Algiers Tech parents learned that the school would be closed in a letter dated Oct. 20, the day of the meeting. Though the letter said the board had already made the decision, Griffin-Major said the letter was sent before the meeting.
Scott Sternberg, a lawyer for the Louisiana Press Association and The Lens, said, “It’s amazing that there are public bodies who think they can describe such drastic action in such general terms.”
The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office has weighed in on this. “An agenda must be reasonably clear so as to advise the public in general terms each subject to be discussed,” a staff lawyer wrote in 1980.
In 2011, the office advised that the purpose of the law “is to give the public access to know the items being considered by a public body at a particular meeting.”
Any action taken in violation of the Open Meetings Law can be voided by a judge if someone sues within 60 days.
The New Beginnings Schools Foundation also voted to close a school Thursday night. It too sent a vague agenda, but a staffer revised it after we asked about it.
The first agenda said, “Approval of Action(s) Designed to Drive Efficiencies in the Network and fully utilize the Avery Alexander site.”
We asked what the board was planning to vote on, pointing out that the law requires more detail. Soon after, we got another agenda. It read, “Approval of consolidation of Gentilly Terrace with Pierre Capdau at the Avery Alexander site.”
The New Beginnings board voted 5-3 to relinquish its charter for Gentilly Terrace Charter School, also rated D by the state. The board members who voted against it expressed concerns about the lack of notice for parents, who learned about the pending closure the day before.
The contracts that govern charter schools require them to follow the Open Meetings Law.
We sought comment from every Algiers Charter School Association board member about the apparent violation of the law. None responded.
We asked RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard about it Friday. He said he couldn’t comment because he hadn’t seen the agenda. We read it to him and emailed it, too. This week, we followed up. He hasn’t responded.
A spokesman for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education said it had no comment.
The Open Meetings Law also requires public bodies to notify the media of upcoming meetings if they request it. We haven’t gotten anything from the Algiers Charter School Association since June.
Griffin-Major said she doesn’t know why. She suggested that we have to put in a request every school year.
Other public bodies have been upfront about closing schools.
Last year, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education shut down Lagniappe Academies. The agenda for the meeting plainly stated that the Recovery School District had recommended that the charter not be renewed.
Earlier this year, Collegiate Academies closed Carver Preparatory Academy and brought its students to Carver Collegiate Academy. The agenda read: “Resolution: to merge charters of CCA and CPA.”
Last week, 19 hours after the Algiers and New Beginnings boards voted, the RSD and the Orleans Parish School Board sent out a news release. It touted two “new options” for students next year, followed by a couple of “transformations” — the closures of Gentilly Terrace and Algiers Tech.
After publication, we added a sentence noting when the letter to Algiers Technology Academy parents was sent. (Oct. 27, 2016)