An Orleans Parish Civil District Court judge on Friday issued a temporary restraining order preventing the Orleans Parish School Board from closing James M. Singleton Charter School until NOLA Public Schools district officials complete a full report detailing alleged violations of the school’s charter contract and present it to the board for consideration.
The order — requested by the Dryades YMCA, Singleton’s governing nonprofit group, as part of a lawsuit against the school board, filed on Friday — came just days after NOLA Public Schools officials announced their intent to shutter the F-rated school over the summer, following financial issues, academic concerns and the arrest of the organization’s CFO after an investigation into suspicious background checks.
The Dryades YMCA is also seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction against the district, arguing the district’s announcement was premature and does not follow the proper board policy or the charter contract and effectively denies the school due process.
“OPSB has already begun the post-revocation process of assigning students to other schools and setting Dryades employees up with new employers,” the lawsuit alleges. “But revocation has not occurred.”
The summer closure — if it proceeds — would be an unusually quick step for the district. School closures, or contract non-renewals, generally take place over the last year of a contract and families learn of a potential school closure months in advance. But the news about Singleton follows mounting warnings against the organization, including several serious ones over the past several months. Both the CEO and CFO resigned in March after the district reported finding suspicious background checks and recently the district alleged that Dryades YMCA owes hundreds of thousands in public funds to the school.
The order, issued by Judge Jennifer Medley, prohibits the district from interfering in daily operations at the school “unless and until OPSB formally revokes the charter.” And that cannot happen until the district issues “a formal factual determination” outlining the specific terms of the charter contract that Dryades YMCA violated, Medley wrote.
Additionally, the order prevents the district from taking further action against the school until the two sides engage in mediation. The order also says that should Superintendent Henderson Lewis, Jr. officially recommend closing the school before the board in July, that the Dryades YMCA would be entitled to a public rebuttal. Dryades YMCA officials were not allowed to speak at the board’s emergency meeting last week when the revocation proceedings were announced.
In a Friday letter to Singleton staff and families, interim CEO Samuel Odom asked for feedback from the school community and thanked the judge for the order.
“Obviously, your voice is an important part of that conversation, and we are working very hard to ensure that you get your fair say about where you want to work, where you want to go to school and what your priorities are,” he wrote. “No students are being pulled or dropped from the 2021-2022 School Roster. Your place at our current facility remains yours to keep at your option.”
Last week, district officials said they would begin reassigning students to other district charter schools as early as this week. On Tuesday, it was unclear whether that process had begun. (The potential closure would not affect pre-kindergarten or Head Start students as those are separate programs.)
NOLA Public Schools spokeswoman Taslin Afonzo said the district has received the order.
“As we have since we began requesting information from the Dryades YMCA, we will continue to strive for a resolution with them while keeping the affected children’s wellbeing and access to quality education top priority,” she wrote in an email.
A hearing on the suit is scheduled for Thursday.