Law & Courts

Judge Rules New Orleans Board Must Revote on Charters

By Catherine Gewertz — November 01, 2005 2 min read
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The New Orleans school board’s decision to open its first post-Hurricane Katrina group of 13 schools as charter schools was declared void last week by a local judge, who ruled that the panel’s vote violated the state’s open-meetings law.

At a hearing in nearby Ascension Parish on Oct. 27, Civil District Court Judge Lloyd Medley barred the school board from taking any action on charter schools until it properly posts the required 24-hour public notice of its intent to do so, and explains clearly in the notice that it plans to vote on a charter application.

“Once the board properly notices the meeting, they can go ahead and move forward,” said Regina H. Bartholomew, the school board’s lawyer.

Board leaders and lawyers in the case said that the notice would be posted in time for debate and a possible vote on the issue at the board’s scheduled late-afternoon meeting on Oct. 28.

Board members said they expected to reconsider the original application for 13 charter schools, as well as consider four additional applications from regular public schools that wish to convert to charter status.

The judge’s action essentially forced the board to start over in its efforts to grant charters to run some of the city’s schools as the district struggles to resume the school year that the destructive late-August storm cut short.

Its controversial Oct. 7 decision to turn all 13 schools on the city’s West Bank into charter schools was halted a week later by another judge after a local minister filed suit, contending that the public had had insufficient opportunity to be involved in the debate.

The charter application, which was in the works before the storm hit and was submitted by representatives of the Algiers neighborhood, was approved on a 4-2 vote, with one abstention. (“Judge Calls Halt to New Orleans’ Charter School Plan,” Oct. 26, 2005.)

Board President Torin Sanders, who voted against the charter school application, said the first time the matter came up before the board, the agenda item was worded in only general language, and “there was no real indication” that the panel would be voting on a charter school application.

“This time it has to be noticed properly, and the way it’s worded, it has to be clear what the board will be considering,” he said last week. “What’s good about this is that there will be some debate about it, so people are better informed about the challenges the district faces.”

Moving Ahead

Board Vice President Lourdes Moran, who introduced the motion to charter the schools, said she was excited to be able to move ahead with the plan.

“I’m looking forward to an opportunity to offer quality education to our children,” she said.

The second round of debate on the 13 charter schools further complicates an already confusing landscape around school openings. When the judge halted further moves on the charter school plan, Mr. Sanders and acting Superintendent Ora L. Watson said they would reopen four of those schools as regular public schools. Where the renewed charter school dialogue leaves the four-school plan was uncertain last week.

And now four additional schools, on the more heavily damaged East Bank of the city, are reportedly applying for conversion to charter status. One has partnered with a university, and at least two have teamed up with community groups, according to board members.

A version of this article appeared in the November 02, 2005 edition of Education Week as Judge Rules New Orleans Board Must Revote on Charters

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