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The Lens’ Week In Review: Special education, lead testing and fake subpoenas

And here we are with another slice of your week, as curated by The Lens.

This week, we have two big stories: one about the difficulties one family has faced finding the right special-education accommodations for their son, and another about a lead-testing problem that may have affected hundreds of kids in New Orleans.

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Brady’s room: One family navigates special education in New Orleans

Reporter Marta Jewson introduces us to Brady LaFleur, a fourteen-year-old who has Down syndrome and autism. Through Brady, we see the difficulties of dealing with special education in New Orleans.

Since late least year, Brady has been working one-on-one with a teacher in a private room inside the old McDonogh 35 building. His mother, Erin, said the program has worked for him.

“It allowed him to meet some of his goals,” she said. “And one of those goals was being able to tolerate being in a classroom for an hour and even just making it to school. Because he wasn’t doing that before.”

But it’s about to go away. The Orleans Parish School Board plans to gut the old McDonogh 35 building this summer and turn it into a career training center.

Brady needs a new space to accommodate him, and the school district isn’t going to find it for him.

Hundreds of kids in New Orleans may have had false lead tests

Over the past year, two major manufacturers of equipment used in blood lead tests have recalled millions of testing kits. When used together with blood drawn from a vein (rather than the heel), the companies’ products can produce falsely low results.

The faulty equipment was used by Children’s Hospital of New Orleans, which likely tested hundreds of kids during the recall period, The Lens found. But Children’s didn’t make a coordinated effort to call affected families. And the state health department, which collects lead testing results, has no idea which kids may have been affected, at Children’s and, possibly, beyond.

“If there is any reason to believe that their test might’ve been done with faulty equipment, you’re living with the false assumption that they have a low blood lead level,” said Gail Fendley, director of LeadSafe Louisiana.

Councilman pushes New Orleans DA to release delayed fake subpoena info

City Councilman Jason Williams, who ran unsucessfully for District Attorney in 2008 and is seen as a potential candidate for the post the next time around, is demanding that Leon Cannizzaro hand over his office’s information on the use of fake subpoenas, among other items.

The council first asked the DA to say how often it used fake subpoenas back in October. The request came at the height of the controversy over the practice. The Lens had won a public records lawsuit for the documents (now in appeals court) and two national groups had just filed a federal civil rights suit over the practice.

In November, Cannizzaro said it would take some time to track down the information for the council, about six months. That would have put it in May. It is now the end of June. And, as Williams pointed out in a letter this week, the council doesn’t have what it wanted.

“We are now beyond the timeline you provided for disclosure, however several items remain outstanding,” Williams wrote.

Harney charter school is in the news again.

What would a Week in Review be without an update on Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy?

As we’ve previously reported, the Central City school is under close scrutiny by the Orleans Parish school district over questionable accounting practices. Its CFO is facing charges of violating state ethics laws by taking an outside accounting contract with the school while he was employed there. And its board president really likes redfish.

More recently, we found that the school was holding onto its employees’ retirement holdings for months before depositing them into their retirement accounts. That’s likely a violation of IRS guidelines. What’s more, we found a very similar criminal case in Baltimore, where the head of a nonprofit was convicted of federal theft charges and sentenced to prison.

Two days after we reported that, the school district asked for a long list of financial information, including its retirement records. The school faces the loss of its charter if it doesn’t comply, a district official warned.

Give peace a chance! Media negativity, impractical schooling feed Black violence

“It’s been 18 months since I got shot nine times,” writes columnist Derrick “Sonny D” Strong.

“People ask what it felt like to be shot. I don’t have a good answer because for me the pain wasn’t being shot; it was knowing that the shooter had help, that he wasn’t alone in his hatred for me.

“He was the product of an established media design to implement self-hatred in Black communities.”

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About Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado covers the city of New Orleans and other local government bodies. He previously worked for Gambit, New Orleans’ alternative newsweekly, where he covered city hall, criminal justice and public health. Before moving to New Orleans, he covered state and local government for weekly papers in Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn.