Today, if a parent were to visit the “parent resources” section of the NOLA Public Schools website and click on “school accountability,” they would find only one item from Superintendent Avis Williams.
In July, Williams issued a warning to McDonogh 35 High School, for sending a child home for the remainder of the school year and failing to follow proper protocol in doing so.
There’s no sign of any other warning issued by Williams to the charters she was hired to hold accountable.
But over the last school year, Williams issued four so-called Level 2 notices of noncompliance, the most serious warning in the district’s arsenal, to charter schools.
The warnings ranged from failing to provide special-education services to failing to follow seclusion-and-restraint policies, under state and federal laws that make virtually all school employees mandatory reporters.
Warnings like this are reported at monthly board meetings and were also posted on the district’s website, with the newest warnings at the top of the accountability page.
Less serious, Level I notices have never been posted.
But recently, Williams changed that practice, giving parents no easily accessible record of those warnings.
Now, once a cited issue is resolved, the NOLA Public School district removes any public-website postings of these warnings, the most severe admonitions it issues to charter schools.
That’s a shift from the practice of Williams’ predecessor, Henderson Lewis, Jr.
And because of the shift, parents will have difficulty determining if their child’s school was cited for violating a wide range of educational requirements — from providing special-education services, to complying with discipline policies, to meeting Louisiana state graduation-eligibility standards.
Making warnings more difficult to find
There’s no reason to make such warnings more difficult for parents to find, said Hector Linares, a law professor with the Loyola Law Clinic who specializes in educational advocacy.
Transparency is especially important, he said, given the federal consent decree that the district has operated under for more than a decade, for failing to provide special-education services.
That consent decree was forged by lawyers for the Southern Poverty Law Center and other advocates for students, including Loyola’s Law Clinic, who filed a 2010 federal lawsuit, P.B., et al. v. Pastorek, to bring Orleans schools into compliance with the federal laws that protect students with disabilities.
The suit charged that governing entities tolerated and even rewarded charter schools that had unrealistically low rates of students with disabilities, either because they refused to enroll such students or pushed them out.
P.B., the lead plaintiff in the case, was told to leave Pierre A. Capdau Charter because of “a manifestation of his disability,” his lawyers wrote. Actions that result from a student’s disability are explicitly protected by federal special-education law.
The lawsuit’s plaintiffs sought accountability at a central level, which was lacking in New Orleans once the charter movement began. “As a result of the education reforms that occurred in the city during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, no such single entity exists in New Orleans,” lawyers wrote.
As a result of the consent decree, and gradual return of state-run charter schools to the district, NOLA Public Schools became that entity. But now, parents will no longer be able to look at the track record of their children’s schools.
“These kinds of moves away from transparency are always concerning,” Linares said. “But the district’s decision to remove past notices of non-compliance is particularly worrisome considering NOLA Public Schools is currently seeking to terminate the independent monitoring required by the consent decree issued in the P.B. case.”
When asked about warnings issued this year, a district spokesperson said there had been three Level 2 warnings: one to Lake Forest Elementary, one to Foundation Preparatory Academy and one to L.B. Landry High School.
Lake Forest was warned for violating state law after denying a student’s enrollment. Foundation Prep failed to immediately report a physical assault on a special-education student by a school employee. Landry failed to complete special education plans for eight students.
Of those three, only the warnings for Lake Forest and Foundation Prep made it to the district’s website, where the public could see them.
“The first two were posted and removed once closed/resolved,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Lens. “The Landry notice was immediately corrected and was subsequently not posted.”
Still, the Algiers Charter School Association got a notice of Landry’s Level 2 notice on September 13 and had resolved it by September 18.
Five days elapsed. Enough time to post it online.
And regardless of how quickly an issue was resolved, advocates like Linares say that all warnings should be retained online and kept readily available.
“Making this kind of information easily available to parents and the general public is important because it helps us track patterns of non-compliance and determine whether the district is fulfilling its obligations related to oversight and accountability effectively,” Linares said.
Nothing has changed in how the Level 2 / Notices of Non-Compliance are removed from the district website once they are resolved under Superintendent Avis Williams, maintains spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo. But, as Alfonzo explained to The Lens, the practice may have seemed inconsistent or confusing on a few instances.
During a few recent school years, the Level 2 notices that were part of Southern Poverty Law Center’s consent decree with the district remained on the website “for multiple years.” Also, certain unresolved Level 2 notices – for organizations that no longer exist or are no longer operating Orleans charters – may have also stayed on the website because the district has not yet formed or implemented a protocol for their removal.
Also, as The Lens described in its story, a Level 2 notice for L.B. Landry High School never made it to the Non-Compliance portion of the district’s website. That was the result of a clerical error, Alfonzo said.