Orleans Parish School Board members meeting as a committee on Tuesday advanced a NOLA Public Schools staff recommendation to amend the charter school renewal process to address schools that did not receive state-issued school performance scores while state standardized testing was on hold during the pandemic.
The proposals would allow any school that has not received a state letter grade to request and undergo an alternative comprehensive review process. They would also remove a limit of one comprehensive review per charter school.
The proposals will still have to go before a full board vote in a regular meeting before being formally adopted into district policy.
The Louisiana Department of Education suspended state testing in the spring of 2020 when schools were shut down early on in the pandemic. And in the spring of 2021, though state testing did return, the state opted only to issue so-called “simulated scores” that fall.
Charter renewals were typically largely based on school performance scores that equate to an A-F letter grade. When scores weren’t available, the district allowed select schools to undergo a comprehensive review. The comprehensive review allows the superintendent to take additional factors into account — such as staff interviews, parent and staff surveys, and internal student academic performance.
That means most schools did not receive a score for two years and others — newer charters with students too young to test — have never received one.
“One might consider this the Elan proposal,” a district staffer explained. Because Elan Academy was a small school that opened in 2017, and grew by adding a new grade each year, when it came up for renewal last fall it had never received a state letter grade.
Chief Operations Officer Tiffany Delcour said school-based COVID-19 testing is “dramatically reducing in weekly test count” as schools let out for the summer. Though some schools will continue to test during May and June summer school sessions, Delcour said the district won’t publicly report those results. She said more than 30 schools have signed on to continue Louisiana Department of Health testing when school restarts in the fall.
Earlier on Monday, New Orleans Health Department Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno announced at a press conference that the city will meet the Centers for Disease Control threshold for medium COVID-19 risk. It has been considered low risk during the recent lull in transmission. The news came following two weeks of Jazz Fest, French Quarter Festival and other events that went on for the first time in two years.
City and school district COVID-19 case numbers and test positivity have been increasing for weeks.
Avegno recommended that people get vaccinated, mask in indoor areas and carefully think about the activities they attend. But the city did not re-implement a mask mandate or other restrictions.
This comes as a flurry of graduations and end-of-school-year celebrations are taking place. Delcour told board members that the district’s health guidelines don’t call for a mandatory mask requirement until the city reaches high community risk. Though she said some schools are asking students and staff to wear masks.
The return of Jazz Fest and other festivals brought good financial news to the district, Chief Financial Officer Stuart Gay reported.
Gay said April sales tax collections from the city came in recently at over $14 million for the month.
“Jazz Fest, all those pieces coming together — it’s a really good thing for the city,” he said.
Last school year, with tourism numbers down, Gay said monthly sales tax transfers from the city averaged $9 million per month. He said that has increased to roughly $11.5 million per month this school year.
Special Education Warnings
Chief Schools Accountability Officer Litouri Smith updated board members on various warnings the district has issued to individual charter schools.
Two in particular — special education warnings issued to Bricolage Academy and Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School — caught the attention of board members Ethan Ashley and Olin Parker.
In one week, Bricolage staff are supposed to finish completing a complete review of special education files, which include an individual education plan for each student that needs special education services. Bricolage received the warning in mid-October and was under scrutiny for special education services before that, including calls from parents for greater oversight.
To date, the school has reviewed 156 of 163 special education files, Smith said. Of those reviewed, only 81 were found to be compliant.
King School received their special education warning in November. Smith said the school has reviewed all 59 of its students’ files — but is doing so component by component so it still has more work to do.
Both Ashley and Parker asked district staff to ensure parents of affected students and possibly affected students were aware of the warnings. They also asked for more details on how schools communicate with families in these circumstances.