Now-closed Lagniappe Academy: A Case Study in Louisiana Charter “Oversight Underinvestment”
This post features the story of a now-closed New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) charter school, Lagniappe Academy.
It is an excerpt from a report entitled, System Failure: Louisiana’s Broken Charter School Law, produced by the Center for Popular Democracy and the Coalition for Community Schools. The report calls for adequate investment in the oversight of Louisiana’s charter schools.
The report is also a call to support a stable learning environment for Louisiana students enrolled in charter schools.
The May 9, 2015, closure of Lagniappe Academy could have been avoided had the state instituted years ago a sound system of auditing schools, complete with the goal of only closing a school as a last resort.
Instead, the state conducted sloppy audits, relied upon whistle blowers to bring fraudulent activity to light, and ignored any sound and stable solution that might have kept the school open and preserved stability in the lives of the school’s 180 students.
Here is the story in full, as reported in the System Failure report:
Lagniappe Academy: A Case Study in Oversight Underinvestment
Lagniappe Academy, a Type 5 Recovery School District charter school in New Orleans, received its 2013–14 annual review from the LDOE, just like every other charter in the state. The review was a good one, with a perfect score of 100 on financial performance, 96 (out of 100) on organizational performance and 82.3 (a “C”) on academic performance. The school seemed on the path to a renewed charter for another 4 to 6 years.
However, as it turns out, Lagniappe Academy is a disturbing example of how the state’s charter oversight system is dangerously inadequate. Thanks, in large part, to brave teachers who came forward and blew the whistle on Lagniappe—and parents who backed up those teachers’ stories with their own experiences —the LDOE eventually found a long list of violations at Lagniappe Academy, the most disturbing of which involved an alarming failure to serve the basic needs of the school’s special education students. In 2014, the LDOE’s annual review of the school, conducted under the framework of the Compact, gave the school a perfect score on all Special Education measures. Below is the special education section of Lagniappe’s 2013-14 annual review (click on image to enlarge):
However, the picture painted by whistleblowers and confirmed by the LDOE when forced to do a more extensive review was of a school illegally depriving special education students of the resources and support they needed. The many violations included:
■ Fraudulent and Inaccurate Documentation of Special Education Services: The school was found to have faked forms and asked staff members to sign forms saying they had provided special education services that they had not provided. Staff members were instructed to move furniture out of a storage room to create a fake special education room in anticipation of a visit from state regulators. The school submitted service logs that falsely suggested that students were provided with special education services on days the school was on break.
■ Failure to Provide an Appropriate Education for Students with Special Needs: The school lacked proper protocols for identifying students with special needs. The school refused to screen students for special education services even when families had a diagnosis from a doctor. The school directed teachers not to provide students with the special education services mandated. Families of students with special needs were discouraged from attending school and/or returning to school in subsequent years.
The state decided, in light of the findings, to deny Lagniappe’s request for a charter renewal, displacing the 180 students at the school. This decision outraged parents, who questioned why the state had only recognized these problems—which according to the state’s own findings, had been going on for multiple years—when it was time for the charter’s renewal. Parents demanded that the state work with the school to correct the violations, or return the school to the control of the local Orleans Parish School District, rather than force their children to start over at a different school. One parent told The Times-Picayune, “As parents we literally feel like they’re throwing our children away like trash.”
The Recovery School District presented these astonishing allegations and the decision to effectively shutter the school as an example of their oversight process working as it is intended. “The data review and the site visits conducted as part of the renewal process allow violations such as those seen at Lagniappe Academies to surface and be addressed,” the RSD Chief of Staff said. “Our state’s charter accountability policy ensures that these violations are not tolerated and has consequences up to and including loss of a charter.”
However, the opposite is true. The situation at Lagniappe shows exactly the problems with the state’s oversight structure for charter schools. The state relies on a largely self-reporting oversight structure that is easily manipulated by the schools themselves —sometimes for multiple years, as happened at Lagniappe. Upon discovering that a serious problem exists, rather than developing a solution that gives the school’s students and teachers some much-needed stability—such as bringing in a different charter operator, or returning the school to local control—the state’s solution for struggling schools is to close them, effectively punishing students and families for problems outside of their control. Lagniappe Academy is a story of how the state is failing Louisiana students, not one of it protecting them.
Just one fine example of why those considering emulating the all-charter Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans need to read the work of those who are not trying to nationally market the RSD sale.
One child’s perspective on the closing of his school, Lagniappe Academy.