Schools
 

Harney continues to rack up warnings, ranging from physical restraint of a student to inadequate special-ed services

Administrators of the Orleans Parish public school system issued another three warnings to Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy on a single day earlier this month, including one for failing to provide special-education services to a student and another for improperly restraining a student.

That makes a total of at least six warnings issued this year to Harney, an elementary school in Central City. Among the most serious so-called “Level II” warnings are two for financial management and failing to respond to requests for documents regarding the chief financial officer, who is under an ethics investigation.

In yet another Level II warning issued earlier this month, district administrators said a student hadn’t received needed special-education services since enrolling at Harney in late November. The district investigated a complaint and learned that the student had refused extra help, but the school never informed the student’s mother.

In another case, Harney was unable to satisfy district concerns that faculty were not properly trained in restraint practices or that parents were notified when such incidents occur.

“Harney has not met its legal obligations for protecting the rights of students,” Dina Hasiotis wrote in a letter to Harney’s administrators. Hasiotis oversees charter schools for the district.

In her warning letter regarding special-education services she wrote, “Harney has not met its legal obligations for ensuring students with disabilities are receiving all services required to achieve academic success.”

Charter schools, like all public schools, are required to serve all students. For students with disabilities, that can mean providing special services, such as physical therapy or speech therapy. Behavioral issues may also require services.

And even if a student refuses services, the school is still required to do what’s outlined in the individual education plan.

Proper discipline and the provision of special-education services continue to surface as problems for charter schools in New Orleans, due in part to their high cost.

In January, Robert Russa Moton Charter School was cited for failing to do enough to properly identify students with disabilities. The district is using a third party to monitor the charter school’s progress.

Collegiate Academies once suspended a special-education student for nearly five weeks. That broke federal law, which caps suspensions for special-education students at 10 days.

A few years ago, administrators at ReNEW SciTech Academy rushed some students through evaluations and misclassified others in order to get additional funding and close a budget gap. Meanwhile, the school didn’t provide required services for students who need extra help. The charter network had to track down the students it failed and make up the missed services.

Harney must show the Orleans Parish school district that it has adequately trained staff and contractors to support students with disabilities. It must also keep up-to-date logs of the special-education services provided.

If they don’t take those steps by the end of the school year, the district could impose further sanctions or revoke the school’s charter.

“It is critically important that your organization address the concerns noted immediately,” Hasiotis wrote. “Failure to respond to these remedies will result in escalated consequences.”

The Rev. Charles Southall III, president of the Harney board, said it had provided the required responses. A district spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

Child restrained, parent not notified

On Feb. 21, a parent called the district about an incident in which her child was physically restrained by a Harney employee.

The letter revealed that a central office employee had witnessed the incident, but it didn’t give the student’s age or say how the student was restrained.

In a conversation several days later, Hasiotis wrote, the school could not prove that only properly trained staff members restrain students. The school also couldn’t show that it properly notifies parents about such incidents within a day, or that school personnel fill out required documentation for students with disabilities.

The school by Wednesday was to have given the district a list of staff certified in how to properly restrain students, a report with the details of the incident and a copy of its seclusion and restraint policy, approved by the board.

And the school must provide training on proper use of seclusion and restraint by mid-May.

If the school doesn’t comply, the district could escalate the warning. That can lead to interventions or even charter revocation.

Proper restraint techniques have been under scrutiny at least since a notorious 2017 incident in which a nine-year-old was handcuffed at Joseph A. Craig Elementary School.

Failing to provide public records

The third warning issued to Harney in April was for not following the law that is meant to assure public access to government records. The warning says a community member complained about the problem.

“After consulting with the school,” Hasiotis wrote, “OPSB learned that Harney failed to respond to the request for public documents in a timely manner.”

The school must assure the district that it understands public records law, and it must be signed by Southall and school leader Aisha Jones, Hasiotis said.

State law says public records must be provided, usually within three days, unless they are in use. The Lens has been waiting on a number of documents from the school since January.

The school has twice said records will be made available to The Lens by a specified deadline and then failed to meet that deadline. It was unclear whether the complaint Hasiotis referred to in her warning letter was the one from The Lens.

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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.