In a photo from the December OPSB meeting, students from Mary D. Coghill Charter School hold up signs supporting their current leadership before a board vote that could have overruled the superintendent's recommendation not to renew the charter. The vote failed, and Coghill will be run by the district next school year. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

The NOLA Public Schools district isn’t buying Mary D. Coghill Charter School’s group’s legal argument — nor its request — that the group should be allowed to continue operating its F-rated charter school. 

In a Monday press release, the Gentilly Woods school challenged the outcome of a December Orleans Parish School Board vote. That vote failed to meet a state-required threshold to reject Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr.’s recommendation not to renew Coghill’s charter. State law and board policy require a two-thirds vote of the full board membership, in OPSB’s case five votes, to overturn the superintendent’s recommendation.

In November, Lewis told the board he thought Coghill ought to lose its charter contract based on poor academic performance and repeated warnings for failing to comply with district policies. In December, board members voted on a resolution to reject Lewis’s recommendations. The vote for Coghill was 4-2, one vote shy of the five votes required. 

In its statement this week, the charter group argued that December’s 4-2 vote (one member was absent) constituted two-thirds of board members present.

In a six-page response from the district’s General Counsel Kathy Moss, the district vehemently disagreed with Coghill’s arguments and explained at length why the district won’t consider the school’s request that its community board get to stay in charge.

Moss wrote that her response intended to “clarify some of the inaccuracies” in the charter group’s letter.

She explained the legal standard of “full membership,” cannot be interpreted to mean “members present,” as the charter group argued. She wrote neither law nor policy support the charter group’s “alternative theory.” 

Further, she wrote, state law requires any challenge to the superintendent be made within one month of his recommendation. 

“Any action to reject the superintendent’s recommendation had to occur at the December meeting, and any action to reject the superintendent’s recommendation beyond that meeting would violate Louisiana law,” she wrote

She went on to outline the school’s academic performance, most recently an F rating, and multiple noncompliance warnings it received throughout 2019. 

Coghill supporters have argued the school is truly a community-run school with several neighborhood members on the board. After several noncompliance issues over the past year the school’s governing board hired a new leader last fall. At the December meeting, Coghill Head of School Rayven Calloway said the school was making a turnaround and needed more time to fully implement new curriculum. This year was the school’s first F rating, after two D ratings and three C ratings.

Despite those arguments, Moss wrote, the district stands by its decision.

“The superintendent recognizes the incredibly hard work that students, parents, and teachers put into their school communities,” she wrote. “Nevertheless, the district must hold charter schools accountable to provide the highest quality educational opportunities for all students.” 

The school’s press representative Virginia Miller sent an email when asked for a response to Moss’s letter.

“Their rationale has been a moving target,” she wrote in an email. “This assertion that the vote required 2/3 of the entire board begs the question of why the board went through the machinations of establishing a quorum and voting when one member wasn’t present. That seems like a huge waste of time for the many parents, students, educators and community members who devoted their time after a long work day to attend.”
Lewis announced last fall that the district plans to run Coghill directly for the 2020-2021 school year. That means New Orleans, which this year became the first major city with no traditional, district-run public schools, will once again have at least one traditional public school. The district has posted several job openings for the transition.

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...