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Moton’s charter could be revoked for failing to identify children who need special education

Robert Russa Moton Charter School faces a rare charter revocation hearing for failing to do enough to identify children who need special education, according to a notice from the Orleans Parish School Board.

The school district sent the notice last week, saying Moton had failed to take the steps required to correct problems identified in August. That was the second time the school district had spelled out exactly what Moton had to fix in order to follow federal law and state education policy.

Neither the school district nor Moton had provided the letter by midday Tuesday. The Lens requested notices of non-compliance from the district last week; state law requires that public records be provided immediately if not in use, and within three days if they are.

The school district’s warning earns the charter organization a sit-down with the superintendent, Dina Hasiotis said at a school board committee meeting on Monday.

She said the warning was issued due to “continued concerns related to ‘child find’ obligations at the school,” referring to the federal policy that outlines what schools must do to identify students with special education needs.

Moton CEO Paulette Bruno was at Monday’s meeting. “We are working to put something together because we are not in agreement with what was presented to us,” she said afterward.

Schools are required to provide a free, appropriate education to all students who walk through their doors, regardless of any disability.

Traditional school districts can shift special-education resources to maximize efficiency. But most charter school networks act as their own school own districts, and single-site schools like Moton don’t have the same economies of scale.

Other charters in New Orleans, like Lagniappe Academies and ReNEW SciTech Academy,  have gotten into trouble for not meeting special education requirements and gaming the system.

The high cost of special education services has led to a shift in the way special education students receive funding in New Orleans’ charter-dominated system.

Moton, a C-rated school, has 315 students, according to district data.

Based on enrollment in October of 2015, the Louisiana Department of Education flagged the charter for having a low number of at-risk students. The school reported only three percent of its students had disabilities the year before, according to NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune. That was well below the city’s rate of 12 percent.

Throughout the 2016-17 school year, Moton was supposed to take a number of steps to ensure it identified all students who needed extra help. That included telling parents about its special education resources and holding regular meetings with certain employees “so that the school consistently finds, identifies and evaluates students suspected of having a disability.”

Because it was being monitored, the Orleans Parish School Board cut two years off Moton’s charter renewal last summer. Moton had a B letter grade last fall, which would normally earn it a six-year contract; instead its charter was renewed for four years.

In June, the district noted several issues, and in August it issued a new intensive corrective action plan with steps to follow throughout the fall. The district said it would reassess the school in December.

The Aug. 2 letter cautioned that failing to follow the plan could be “an egregious and/or a consistent violation of federal, state and local laws protecting the rights of students with disabilities. Therefore, any lack of action on this plan may lead to Tier 3 Intervention and potentially revocation of your charter contract with OPSB.”

That happened last week, when the district issued a Tier 3 Intervention letter — the most serious warning a charter can receive.

Hasiotis told the board the school district is working to schedule the hearing.

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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.