NOLA Public Schools' West Bank headquarters. (Marta Jewson/The Lens) Credit: Marta Jewson / The Lens

Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School, which was facing a possible non-renewal of its operating agreement with the Orleans Parish School Board, will remain open, NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Henderson Lewis announced at Thursday night’s Orleans Parish School Board meeting. 

Lewis told board members he will grant the Lower 9th Ward school a three year “contingent” charter contract renewal. That recommendation came a month after the district’s other charters up for renewal learned their fate. Officials said that was in part due to problems identified with employee background checks at the school and alleged special education violations detailed in a warning the district issued this fall. 

Earlier this week, district Chief Accountability Officer Litouri Smith the problems with legally required background checks at the school had been remedied. 

The more serious issue was the special education warning. In a November letter, the district alleged that special education students did not receive the services they should have, that the school did not consider special external education evaluations that parents commissioned for their children and that the school did not “take jurisdiction” of special education transfers and begin providing them services within the required time period. The letter outlined six steps the school must take by Dec. 10.

On Thursday, Lewis didn’t specify whether all those requirements had been met but simply stated in his superintendent’s report that he would grant the three-year “contingent” renewal. Schools with that type of renewal generally have to work closer with the district so it can oversee any areas where the school may be struggling. 

As of Tuesday, the special education warning was still on the books, according to Smith’s presentation.

King enrolls just under 1,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The school’s latest state rating, in 2019, prior to the pandemic disrupting standardized testing, was a D.

One member of the public thanked the superintendent for the renewal. 

“We look forward to working with you and your staff … so we can be in compliance with all that is necessary for a first class charter.”

The board also voted Thursday night to allow the Delores Taylor Arthur School for Young Men to expand its high school to 8th grade. 

The district has generally asked schools to serve either kindergarten through eighth grade, having several K-5 and K-6 schools expand to eighth grade, or high school, over the years. But the district is facing an enrollment shortage and Lewis and his staff have said they need to “right-size,” which could mean charter school closures or consolidations. 

Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools Legal and Policy Director Sarah Vandergraff said this would help the school fill seats and make the school more competitive with private schools in the city. Local private high schools often start enrolling in the 8th grade, she said.

“We realize we will have a bubble of kids that will be in 8th grade,” Lewis said Thursday, noting the expansion will help alleviate that.

“I want to be clear today that the purpose in this moment here is to deal with the downsizing of our district … It will help a new school that is trying to grow but also help the district in this moment,” Lewis said. 

The motion passed unanimously.

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...