College district cites Dr. King Constitution for alleged particular training violations, requires monitoring

The NOLA Public Schools district is sponsored by Friends of King, the founding group that established the Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School operates requiring a third party to oversee their special education services over the next six months due to a series of special education violations, the district says it has identified itself with the school.

The order comes as the county itself seeks to end the federally mandated special school oversight that the Louisiana Department of Education and the county have been under for nearly seven years. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which represents 10 families who originally sued the authorities, argues they are not ready to evade federal oversight just yet.

The Lower 9th Ward School enrolls nearly 1,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, and about 10 percent of students have a disability, according to the state. The school’s last government rating in 2019, before the pandemic disrupted standardized tests, was a “D”.

In a two-page warning letter dated November 16, the district claims that the Dr. King Charter School has failed to provide special education services and other requirements under the Federal Act on Persons with Disabilities in Education, which guarantees students with disabilities an adequate education.

Litouri Smith, Chief Schools Accountability Officer, alleges in the letter at least three violations: that special education students did not receive the services they should have, that the school did not consider special external educational assessments that parents commissioned for their children, and that the school does not “take over the responsibility” of a special school transfer and begin providing services within the required time frame. The letter outlines six steps the school must take by the next month.

It is unclear how many students did not receive government-protected services. The district warning letter refers to a “confidential attachment” with more details that The Lens has requested. However, if the appendix contains personally identifiable information that appears likely, it may not be subject to full disclosure under state public records law.

Smith announced the warning at the meeting of the Orléans Parish School Board Committee Tuesday, where he also found that Dr. King Charter, whose charter is expiring, was not on a list of recommended schools for renewal. In that presentation, Smith said that six other charter schools, like King, up for renewal, would be getting new contracts.

“You may find that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School is not on that list,” Smith said Tuesday.

In the most recent state reviews published after the 2018/19 school year, King received a D letter from the state. This can make the school eligible for a 3-year contract, but it must have increments in certain grade levels. (State ratings were not released in 2020 or 2021 due to the pandemic.)

“We are working with the school to gather additional information as part of their renewal review and will make a recommendation to the board meeting in December,” said Smith.

The warning letter, issued on the same day as the meeting, requires the school to submit monthly compliance reports from an outside monitor – paid for by the charter group – which appears to be a first for the district. This agreement will last at least six months and run until June 2022.

Among the additional requirements the district has placed on the school, it is required to review completed external special education exams and prepare any required individual education plans, often referred to as IEPs. IEPs are a government-protected contract between a school and a family that defines specific services a child needs and is entitled to.

Smith also wrote that the school must verify that all of its students have received the required special education – and if not, they must complete compensation or makeup by December 10th. This includes a subset of students who are listed on a “confidential appendix”, ”Smith said in his letter. (It is unclear how many of the student’s needs are listed in this appendix.)

The district also requires the school to “assume the authority and open service of the students as specified in the confidential appendix in SER”. This seems to suggest that the school did not draw any external recommendations for newly enrolled or re-assessed students available in the state’s special education reporting system.

In addition, the district requires the school to conduct a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) and Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP) for the students listed in the warning to ensure they are receiving adequate service.

The warning also indicates, but does not address, additional areas of non-compliance. When asked about the additional topics, District Spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo did not want to give any specific information.

“At NOLA Public Schools (NOLA-PS), we work with our schools to ensure they are supported in providing quality education to their students,” wrote Alfonzo. “Bullet 6 refers to our work with the Martin Luther King Charter School to help them improve the documentation of their special education delivery.”

Friends of King’s chairman and attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

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