Mary D. Coghill Charter School board members listen to NOLA Public Schools' Amanda Aiken on Oct. 22, 2019 as she answers questions about the upcoming charter renewal process. (Marta Jewson/The Lens) Credit: Marta Jewson / The Lens

The NOLA Public Schools district informed Mary D. Coghill Charter School staff this week that the school remains under scrutiny over its special education services. Since August, the school has been under a so-called “level 2 warning,” which, short of revoking a charter is the most serious citation the district gives out. The new letter extends the warning period into next month. 

District Chief Portfolio Innovation and Accountability Officer Kelli Peterson said improvements have been made, but the school needs to work on making up special education services for students who had previously missed them, according to her Nov. 18 letter

The letter, sent to Coghill Head of School Rayven Calloway and the charter group’s board president Audrey Woods, also instructed the school to submit a series of documents by Friday. 

The Better Choice Foundation, which runs Coghill, is facing the likely loss of the school’s charter at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. After earning an F letter grade in its contract renewal year, a high-stakes year for charter schools, district officials told the public on Tuesday that Coghill does not meet the standards for a contract renewal.

Additionally, the school is under the same “level 2 warning” for financial management.

Still, even if the school is in its final year of operation, the charter group must provide special education required under federal and state law. The district’s initial special education warning letter charged that the Gentilly Woods charter school failed to do just that. 

After receiving a parent complaint on July 29, district employees reviewed the student’s file and confirmed that the student had not received required services. That prompted an in-depth review. District employees “observed patterns of systematic and student-specific non-compliance” and found eight other students who had not received proper special education services. 

The August letter ordered the school to review all special education files to ensure they had up-to-date service logs and signed individual education plans, often called IEPs, which spell out which services a child needs. It also required the school to review its special education procedures in regards to documenting services and hold meetings with the nine affected students’ IEP teams. 

The school also had to calculate how many minutes of special education services each child was owed, inform their parents and pay for making up the services. 

The new letter requests some of the same materials from the school. The new letter said the warning would be extended until Dec. 13. 

It orders Coghill to provide a summary of IEP team meetings and plans to make up missed services to the nine identified students by Friday. The school also must show it notified parents of the services their child missed — including how many minutes of services — and whether the parent would like the services to be made up by submitting signed parent letters to the district. 

The charter is also supposed to provide written procedures for documenting services and logs of each students’ compensatory services. 

The Lens sought comment from Coghill’s board president and the school’s top administrator. Neither responded.

At an Orleans Parish School Board Committee meeting on Tuesday, Peterson said the schools two warnings remained open and addressed the special education one. 

“On November 11 we did go back to review files,” she said. “There was progress made with their compliance service logs but there still significant remedy is required on compensatory services so we will continue to work with them through the remedy of that.”

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...