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

The NOLA Public Schools district has flagged Abramson Sci Academy for allegedly placing a special education student in the wrong classes for two years, leaving him behind in earning a high school diploma, according to a two-page warning letter issued by district officials last month. 

The boy, who is not identified by name, was placed in a self-contained classroom during his freshman and sophomore years when he should have been in general education classes with other students, district officials contend.

Officials at Collegiate Academies, the charter group that runs Abramson, are disputing the claims and have asked the district to retract the warning. But in a follow-up letter sent Tuesday, NOLA Public Schools Interim Chief Accountability Officer Litouri Smith declined to do so

According to the district letter, during his freshman and sophomore years, the student was placed on a diploma track intended for students with significant cognitive disabilities, though he didn’t qualify for that program. 

“The student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) was written providing for instruction in a curriculum he no longer qualified for,” Smith wrote. “The student participated in the REACH Program at Abramson which offers no credits for courses toward graduation requirements.”

After an IEP meeting in November 2021, “the student was placed in general 9th grade courses as an 11th grader.” The student’s mother later complained to the district. 

The district also alleged the school had failed to provide proper academic support to the boy during the transition.

Collegiate’s Chief Strategy Officer Davis Zaunbrecher said that is not the case and that the school has provided “extensive documentation” of the academic support the boy has received this school year. 

“It borders on defamatory to say that we’ve provided ‘little to no academic support,’ ” he wrote in an email to The Lens. “It’s also just confusing. We’ve sent this information in multiple ways to them over the span of months.”

Abramson is one of four high schools operated by Collegiate Academies in New Orleans. They aren’t the only organization that the district has claimed have fallen short on special education services in the past few years.  

Two other charter schools, Bricolage Academy and Dr. King Charter School, are both under district warnings and were required to hire a third party to review special education files. That’s in addition to eight city charter schools under special education corrective action plans from the Louisiana Department of Education, in part due to reviews monitored under a federal consent judgment

Both the state and district want to exit that judgment, put in place as part of a class-action settlement in 2015. The case is ongoing, but most recently a federal judge denied a request from the Southern Poverty Law Center — who brought the suit that led to the judgment on behalf of 10 families — to challenge a potential exit plan. 

Back at Abramson, Collegiate officials contend the student’s family asked for the change to general education classes last fall, before the district’s warning, and that they obliged.

“It is comparatively rare to shift a pathway in the final months of that timeline,” Zaunbrecher wrote. “But it is fully within LDOE policy and was done at the request of the family.”

Also included in the district warning letter was a requirement to meet with the student’s parents to explain his graduation status and a plan to ensure he can earn all credits necessary to earn a diploma. 

And the school was required to review all so-called “Multidisciplinary Evaluation Reports” of students in self-contained classrooms to ensure they are in compliance. The deadline for those tasks was today.

“We have provided documentation on the full set of steps that they outlined in the letter,” Zaunbrecher wrote. “That said, we’re going to continue the dialogue with NOLA-PS because we believe that this Notice never should have been issued in the first place.”

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...