The Orleans Parish School Board broke state rules when it extended its deadline for charter school applications without permission, according to a letter from the state Department of Education to the local district.

“In future years, should you desire to use a timeline that is different than the common timeline approved by BESE [the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education], I ask that you request a waiver …  prior to the start of the application process.” assistant state superintendent Kunjan Narechania wrote to Orleans schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr.

Sydni Dunn, a spokeswoman for the state education department, said the Orleans Parish School Board won’t be punished.

The state board of education set Feb. 24, the Friday before Mardi Gras, as the statewide deadline for charter applications this year.

On Feb. 15, Lewis announced the district would extend its deadline to March 6. He said the district wanted to “ensure that all prospective applicants are afforded the opportunity to submit proposals, particularly in light of the Mardi Gras holiday.”

District offices were closed from Feb. 24*, Lundi Gras, through March 2.

A school district spokeswoman acknowledged that local officials had spoken with the state about breaking the rules.

“OPSB has discussed the extension with the Department of Education and no corrective measures need to be taken,” spokeswoman Dominique Ellis said.

Better Choice Foundation submitted an application to take over the three direct-run elementary schools. The organization hadn’t submitted a letter of intent in January, the first step in the charter application process.

It took the Orleans school district two days to make that application available to the public. That was a day after it posted the application of a charter group formed by school district staffers and the principals of its five direct-run schools.

Thursday, Ellis told Times-Picayune that Better Choice Foundation had withdrawn its application.

Also that day, the principal of Harriet Tubman Charter School posted a comparison of her organization’s 2011 charter application and Better Choice’s application for the three schools. She highlighted entire sections that practically matched Tubman’s word-for-word.

*Correction: This story originally stated the district was closed from Feb. 27 to March 2. In fact, the district was closed from Feb. 24 to March 2. (March 13, 2017)

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...