John F. Kennedy High School at Lake Area on Paris Avenue in Gentilly. Credit: Charles Maldonado / The Lens

The mother of a John F. Kennedy High School senior is suing the charter, the Orleans Parish School Board and the state board of education on behalf of her daughter, saying that mismanagement by the Gentilly high school falsely led the family to believe the 17-year-old had graduated in May.

She’s not alone. About half the 2019 class turned out to be ineligible for graduation, a fact that the school’s governing board did not reveal until a month after the ceremony.

“There has been gross mismanagement at every level of this,” attorney Suzette Bagneris said. “If the children did not meet requirements, why did you let them across the stage.”

Bagneris, of the Bagneris Firm, said students and their families would be eligible for financial damages and loss of opportunity.

The 17-year-old’s mother, Darnette Daniels said it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. “She did everything that people asked her to do.”

But now, she’s learned her daughter is being forced to enroll in the school again this fall because it appears the school had been using remedial courses incorrectly. The school used a remedial program called GradPoint.

”There has been gross mismanagement at every level of this.”—Suzette Bagneris, attorney

According to the suit, the teenager and her mother were told that she could take her classes online through GradPoint and graduate in May, a year early. But two days before graduation, they were told that none of those GradPoint classes would count because they were not completed in the presence of a certified teacher.

“First of all, she’s not supposed to be at home doing it,” Daniels said of the makeup work her daughter completed. “They’re supposed to be with a certified teacher doing GradPoint.”

“Which means she has to go to school next year to get these credits and that’s unacceptable to me,” Daniels said.

Bagneris filed the suit Monday in Orleans Parish Civil District Court against Kennedy’s nonprofit board, the New Beginnings Schools Foundation, the Orleans Parish School Board, which authorizes the charter contract, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education as well as consulting group TenSquare.

The charter group hired TenSquare after CEO Michelle Blouin-Williams was suspended in the midst of an investigation into suspicious grade changes, first reported by The Lens in March. Blouin-Williams later resigned.

Bagneris said the plaintiff is seeking to pursue the suit as a class action and that other students who were found ineligible to graduate could join.

Of Kennedy’s 177 seniors, 92 of them weren’t eligible to graduate, a review conducted nearly a month after graduation found. Many of those students had walked across the stage on graduation day in mid-May. Now, some are sitting in summer school while others must re-enroll in the fall.

“It hurt me that my child didn’t get her diploma,” Daniels said. The 17-year-old transferred to Kennedy from a Slidell high school. Daniels said the school told her daughter which courses to take in order to ensure graduation eligibility and that she completed the assigned work.

Bagneris said students are owed for financial expenses they lost in the college application process and “the loss of opportunity that they’ve endured by being deprived of an opportunity to go to school.”

“We are hoping to seek redress for the lifetime horror they’re going to have to keep reliving,” she said, noting students had many senior expenses and that their class rings of 2019 aren’t accurate.

”It hurt me that my child didn’t get her diploma.”—Darnette Daniels

“They have senior pictures, they have class rings, they have all kinds of expenditures,” she said.

“Due to no fault of their own.”Asked how many students could join, Bagneris said “Over 92 students and their parents. And the number seems to be growing each day.”

New Beginnings’ board chair Raphael Gang said he couldn’t comment on ongoing litigation.

In the wake of the scandal, Orleans schools’ Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. has called for a criminal investigation and announced he would audit the records of all high school students. The Orleans Parish School Board did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and a representative of TenSquare could not be reached.

“It’s shameful,” Bagneris said. “I’ve had three daughters graduate, and I remember the joy of that day.”

“These are kids who should be packing trunks to go away for college,” she said. “They should not be dealing with this.”

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...