Sophie B. Wright Charter School violated state academic policy earlier this year by changing a student’s grades to F for not attending a summer “beautification and service program,” according to the state Department of Education.

The 55-hour, monthlong program is required for any student involved in a fight on or near the Napoleon Avenue campus, at school events, or while wearing a Sophie B. Wright uniform, according to the B-rated school’s handbook.

The course teaches students how to be productive, law-abiding citizens and how to “develop a sense of care and pride about school and community.” It also provides tutoring in math, science and English.

“Students were required to attend the program every day. There are no negotiations or waivers on this policy.”—Letter from Sophie B. Wright Charter School with Sharon Clark’s name on it

Charter Director Sharon Clark, however, told The Lens, “None of the grades were ever changed. We don’t change teachers’ grades.”

Clark told the Department of Education that an employee had made a mistake in sending the letters.

But that employee, former Assistant Charter Director D’Lacie Monk, told The Lens that she thought the summer program was legitimate and had been around for years. She understood that school policy was to change grades for students who didn’t attend it.

“If they didn’t go to the class, they received an F. I think that’s what the letter explains,” she said. However, she said, she didn’t change any grades herself.

Monk said she worked at the school for less than a year and is no longer there.

A Sophie B. Wright parent complained to the Department of Education after receiving a letter over the summer saying their child failed to attend the course.

“Students were required to attend the program every day,” said the letter, which bore Clark’s name at the bottom. “There are no negotiations or waivers on this policy.”

Enclosed with the letter was an updated report card showing all F’s for incomplete courses, according to the Department of Education. The student’s previous report card had showed passing grades in each course.

The letter offered students an opportunity to make up the missed credit this fall. That program cost $100, plus $22 for a book and a workbook.

Ten students got those letters, said Laura Hawkins, chief of staff for the Recovery School District.

“None of the grades were ever changed. We don’t change teachers’ grades.”—Sharon Clark, Sophie B. Wright Charter School

State law prohibits school administrators from altering grades assigned by teachers unless there is an error, Hawkins wrote in her “notice of concern.” That’s the lowest of three levels of discipline for charters.

In her response, Clark wrote that the school’s letter had been prepared by a new assistant principal, who later realized her mistake.

Another letter, dated three days after the first, instructed parents to disregard the first one. The second letter said students could make up the work this fall, but it didn’t say anything about their grades.

“It is important that students learn to resolve conflict and grow to become productive citizens,” read the letter, which bore Monk’s signature. “Your child missed attending a valuable extended-year program.”

But Monk said she didn’t write that letter.
“I don’t know anything about this June 30th letter with my signature on it,” she said after The Lens showed it to her. She acknowledged the signatures matches hers, but said, “How it got there, I can’t tell you.”

Clark included that letter in her response to the state to show that the problem had been fixed. “Grades were not changed by the administration,” Clark wrote. “Administration does not have access to a teacher’s grade book.”

Asked how a student’s grades would have changed, Clark told The Lens, “The grades automatically default if a child doesn’t turn in paperwork.”

But she reiterated that the administration did not change students’ grades. “And that’s what RSD didn’t understand.”

Hawkins said the school returned to good standing after providing report cards for the 10 students showing that their grades matched the ones given by their teachers at the end of the school year.

This story was updated after publication to include comments from D’Lacie Monk. (Dec. 12, 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...