The long-awaited entry of three of New Orleans’ highest-rated selective-admissions schools into OneApp, the NOLA Public School district’s centralized enrollment system, won’t occur until next fall, district and school officials confirm. That means that students wishing to enroll in the schools — Benjamin Franklin High School, Lake Forest Elementary Charter School and Lusher Charter School — for the 2021-2022 school year will once again be required to go through their independent admissions programs.  

The schools are remaining outside of OneApp in spite of a requirement that they join the system when their renewed charter contracts begin, which they will be starting in the summer. 

Though the current OneApp admissions cycle will enroll students for next fall — when the schools will be under the new contracts — district and school officials say the schools technically don’t have to join OneApp until they are already operating under the contract renewals. New Orleans charter contract renewals could be announced next as early as next week, but won’t go into effect until July 1.

“Schools join the OneApp after their new contracts begin,” district spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo wrote in an email to The Lens. “New contracts generally begin during the summer after a successful renewal process.” 

In prior years, some city charter schools have voluntarily joined OneApp.

Franklin, Lake Forest and Lusher have run their own admissions since becoming charter schools. But a provision of Act 91 — the 2016 law that required state-run Recovery School District schools to return to NOLA Public Schools control — now codified in district policy requires that all city charters join the common system when their multiyear contracts are renewed.

All three schools are currently in the final years of their charter contracts. Because standardized testing was impossible during last school year’s extended COVID-19 closures, the state will not be releasing 2020 school ratings. But since the three schools have traditionally performed well, they will almost certainly be renewed for 2021-2022. 

A spokeswoman for Lake Forest and Lusher said the schools will transition into OneApp next year — allowing students to enroll there through the centralized system for the 2022-2023 school year — and Franklin’s head of school confirmed the same. 

The majority of city schools use the centralized OneApp, an algorithm-based system intended to give all students an equal opportunity to attend schools across the city. OneApp was created in 2011 by the RSD. By that time, the majority of the city’s schools were charters, run by independent boards rather than a centralized school district. Prior to the OneApp system going online, students generally had to apply to each charter school separately through its own system.

A select few schools have continued to operate their own admissions. And for years, parents have navigated the array of admissions systems, with varying requirements and deadlines, throughout the city. The NOLA Public Schools District took over the system in 2018.

Though he accepts that the schools may not technically be required to join OneApp now, former educator and parent Jacob Landry said he thinks the delay creates a missed opportunity. Landry taught before serving as head of the charter schools office at the Louisiana Department of Education and later the Chief Strategy Officer at Jefferson Parish Public Schools. He no longer works in education.

“I think it’s really unfortunate that we’re going to miss this school year. Because I think it’s an issue that’s long overdue,” Landry said in a Wednesday interview. 

He also thinks the selective schools — which require entrance exams — still lack transparency in their admissions processes. “With no transparency comes no accountability,” he said.

In 2015, while applying to schools for his oldest child, Landry was surprised to find out the exam Lusher Charter School used in its admissions process wasn’t disclosed to the public. After an uphill battle and a Louisiana Attorney General’s opinion, the school later revealed the name of the test. 

“Bottom line is in a school system like New Orleans, you have to have transparency, accountability and unified enrollment,” Landry said.

“I think having a unified enrollment system is something New Orleans has really led the way on,” Landry said. “The school system here in general is really a novel concept and I think unified enrollment makes it a stronger system and it is inequitable to have a few schools running their own process.”

He also pointed out that Lusher, Lake Forest, and Franklin are finishing out the final year of 10-year contracts.

“The system as we know it today didn’t really exist” when those contracts were granted, Landry said. “It’s a good opportunity for OPSB to bring those schools into alignment.”

Lake Forest and Lusher spokeswoman Heather Harper said the two schools will join next fall for the following school year. 

Franklin Head of School Patrick Wildhalm said the same. 

“Criteria admissions schools’ charters are up for renewal in June 2021. Franklin is working with NOLA-PS on a transition into the OneApp program in the 2021-2022 school year,” he said in a provided statement. “This change, however, will not affect our admissions standards, and we are committed to working with prospective families every step of the way to navigate the process and ensure transparency.”

In recent years, OneApp has launched as early as the first week of November, but sometimes just before Thanksgiving. This year, the centralized application will include one new school, Lyceum Schools Inc. The OneApp site says the application will open Nov. 20. 

Nearly one-quarter of the district’s charter schools are up for charter contract renewal this year. Those decisions will likely be announced in November or December. 

Lusher announced its online application process in a press release this week. Applications are due Nov. 30. Lake Forest’s application process is also open and closes Nov. 30. Franklin’s applications are due Jan. 21, 2020.

OneApp opens Nov. 20 and closes Jan. 29, 2021, some schools with additional application elements, such as language immersion schools, are due in December.

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...