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BESE Report April 2017

Louisiana Federation of Teachers
BESE Report
April, 2017

Abbreviated BESE meetings sidestep ESSA issue

Faster than a speeding bullet, the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education sailed through its slate of meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday in record time. Committee hearings that generally last until the sun goes down (or later) were gaveled to a close with hours to spare, leaving onlookers puzzled more about what did not happen than what did.

Contrary to expectations, there was no mention of the state’s application under the federal Every Child Succeeds Act. Prior to the meeting, the buzz in Baton Rouge had been over how Superintendent of Education John White would justify submitting the application in apparent violation of a BESE directive.

It’s a long story, but it boils down to this: At the conclusion of a seven-hour special BESE meeting on March 29, the board directed White not to submit the plan to Washington prior to April 14, and to meet with stakeholders and iron out any lingering issues. The governor’s office, local school boards, principals, superintendents, and unions had all listed objections to the plan.

By the morning of April 15, however, it was revealed that White had submitted the plan to the U.S. Department of Education without the required signature of the governor. There are reports that White met with superintendents and principals, but that representatives of school boards were not allowed to participate in the discussion. Neither of the state’s two professional organizations were even notified that the meetings would take place.

As the superintendents association was preparing for further meetings to discuss the ESSA application with White, they were informed that the plan would be submitted the day before Easter.

Dodgeball ban takes center stage at BESE meeting

The only real controversy in April’s slate of BESE meetings came when the board’s Academic Goals and Instructional Improvement Committee objected to a new physical education standard that would prohibit dodgeball or other “human target games” from being played.

The new standards, designed over two months by a 21-person panel, was intended “for students to develop into physically literate individuals who have the knowledge, skills and confidence to enjoy a lifetime of healthful physical activity.”
But one statement in the proposed new standards said that “human target games (e.g. dodge ball) and drills that promote aggressive behaviors by attacking and overpowering other humans are not to be permitted.”

Two BESE members objected. District 3 Member and Board Vice President Holly Boffy and District 6 Member Kathy Edmonston said the new rule is an overreaching micromanagement of teachers. The rest of the board agreed, and sent the new standards back to the Department of Education for review.

Baton Rouge Charter Academy will get new management

A new management plan under the direction of a former BESE member saved Baton Rouge Charter Academy at Mid-City from being closed due to its abysmal academic performance.

BESE’s School Innovation and Turnaround Committee approved, and the full board confirmed, a plan by GEO Prep Academy to assume control of the failing charter school.

GOP Prep is a two year old, open enrollment, C-rated charter school with about 250 students. The president of GEO Prep’s board of directors is former BESE Member Linda Johnson. The school is operated by the Indianapolis-based non-profit GEO Foundation.

Baton Rouge Charter Academy’s future looked dim in December, when BESE voted to close the school because it had never scored higher than an “F” on the state report card.

Under the plan approved by the board this week, GEO Prep will lease the school campus at 1771 N. Lobdell Blvd, and will assume control in fall of 2017. It may enroll up to 630 students in grades K through 8.

In other charter school news:

BESE again delayed action on the troubled Northshore Charter School in Bogalusa. The F-rated school poses a problem because there are few better options for students in the area. The board will again discuss Northshore Charter at its June meeting. BESE will not meet in May.

BESE agreed to a plan for the Linwood Public Charter School in Shreveport calling for the parish school board to manage the school for one year while waiting for an operator to negotiate a contract to operate the school.