NEW ORLEANS — On the last day of a lost summer vacation, half of the 2019 senior class at Kennedy High School was dealt yet another blow as an emergency court hearing was delayed until Tuesday.
Parents suing Kennedy’s beleaguered charter school network, New Beginnings Schools Foundation, had hoped to force the school and state of Louisiana to turn over transcripts and diplomas at Friday’s emergency court hearing in front of Judge Rachael Johnson, who is already the third judge assigned to the case.
Instead, lawyers for New Beginnings and the Orleans Parish School Board argued they didn’t receive proper notice of the hearing they attended to prepare a full response. And attorneys for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, also named in the lawsuit, didn’t bother to show up at all.
“We shouldn’t be talking about service of process and whether somebody was served in their driveway or their business when kids’ futures are on the line,” said Suzette Bagneris, an attorney who brought a potential class-action case on behalf of parents and students. “They’ve already destroyed the memory of their graduation. Can they please go on with their future?”
BESE spokesman Kevin Calbert declined to answer why the state board was a no-show. But Bagneris said she learned at the hearing that she should have sued the Louisiana Department of Education instead, because it’s the agency responsible for certifying student transcripts.
“What we’re having here is a shell game,” Bagneris said. “New Beginnings is blaming the state for not certifying the transcripts and the state is blaming New Beginnings for not providing the documentation necessary.”
New Beginnings officials declined to comment, except to say they’re working as hard as they can to process transcripts.
LDOE spokeswoman Sydni Dunn said, “We are working closely with the school to ensure, student-by-student, that all transcript information is accurate. We understand and appreciate the urgency, and we are working as quickly as possible to complete this process.”
Johnson agreed to push the emergency hearing back to Tuesday, meaning the case will have to be transferred to a fourth judge.
About half of the 177 Kennedy seniors can’t get diplomas or transcripts, even though most of them rectified any lingering issues with class credits during summer school sessions.
Few if any of them were notified that they had deficiencies before it was too late, the lawsuit alleges. All but 22 of the 177 Kennedy seniors were invited to participate in graduation ceremonies in May, but New Beginnings acknowledges that 69 shouldn’t have been there because of problems caused by admitted negligence or misconduct by school officials.
One of those was Anthony Wise.
“He wants to get his education, be in physical therapy, occupational therapy …. That’s his career,” said his mother, Shelia Wise. “But he can’t do nothing right now. I mean, he’s stuck!”
She came to court Friday hopeful and left exasperated.
“It’s a big circus,” Shelia Wise said. “Everybody want to point fingers, but you still got all these kids out here that’s supposed to be going off to college to finish the next chapter in their life, and they can’t do it.”
Even when New Beginnings and the state have managed to get transcripts processed on an emergency basis, something has gone wrong.
Bagneris urged the charter school to rush a transcript to John Ross in time for him to report to Highland Community College in Highland, Kan., last Sunday and save his college football scholarship.
“John went up to Kansas on July 28 for training camp,” Bagneris said. “The transcript was sent by New Beginnings but it has no graduation date on it, therefore it’s incomplete. The coach has been so gracious as to give John until Aug. 31 to provide the transcript, a complete transcript to the school.”
Former Orleans Parish School Board president Thomas Robichaux, who is an attorney, says there could also be criminal violations by school staff, because New Beginnings acknowledges some students’ grades were changed to make it look like they passed when they did not.
“I do think they should go to jail,” Robichaux said. “I think it’s worth going to jail for because of the trauma and the trouble they’ve caused to these students and their parents.”
Shelia Wise agrees.
“Had … one of the children they don’t have the transcript for (gone) out and (done) something wrong, they going to lock them up,” she said. “So, (if) the shoe fits, wear it!”