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Madison-Tallulah Education Center v. Louisiana Board of Elementary

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

April 12, 2018

MADISON-TALLULAH EDUCATION CENTER
v.
LOUISIANA BOARD OF ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION, ET AL.

          KAREN L. HAYES, MAG. JUDGE.

          RULING

          TERRY A. DOUGHTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Madison-Tallulah Education Center a/k/a Tallulah Charter School (“TCS”) filed this lawsuit against Defendants Louisiana Board of Elementary & Secondary Education (“BESE”), Louisiana Department of Education (“LDE”), and John C. White (“White”), Superintendent of the LDE (referred to collectively as “Defendants”), for purported violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law.

         Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. [Doc. 13]. For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[1]

         TCS is a Louisiana nonprofit corporation domiciled in Madison Parish, Louisiana. Under La. Rev. Stat. § 17:3983, BESE approved TCS to operate a Type 2 public charter school, beginning in July 2013. BESE and TCS entered into a written contract (“the Charter Contract”) pertaining to TCS's operation of the school.

         Since 2013, TCS has continuously operated the Type 2 charter school in Madison Parish under the initial term of the Charter Contract. Most of the students attending TCS reside in Madison Parish.

         Under La. Rev. Stat. 17:3981, BESE oversees the operation of Type 2 charter schools for the State of Louisiana. Pursuant to La. Rev. Stat. § 17:3981(5), BESE has rule-making authority to determine policy and direction to LDE with regard to the schools' BESE charters. Under La. Rev. Stat. § 17:3981(3), BESE must adopt rules for the efficient, effective, and fair undertaking of its duties.

         BESE adopted rules contained in the Administrative Code. Pursuant to La. Admin. Code § 28:1502A, the Superintendent of LDE makes a recommendation to BESE whether a charter shall be renewed after completion of its initial term of operation.

         On or about May 5, 2017, the LDE allegedly received a complaint about potential testing irregularity at TCS during the 2016-17 school year. The LDE conducted an investigation, which included multiple site visits and interviews in 2017. TCS contends that the LDE questioned students without providing advanced parental/guardian notice and without first securing parental/guardian authorization. The LDE also sought and gathered records and other information maintained at TCS.

         TCS contends that the LDE did not seek or permit use of the Complaint Procedures under La. Admin. Code 28:3301, to address the May 5, 2017 complaint. TCS further contends that the LDE and the Superintendent did not use the due process components specified in the Charter School Performance Compact, which is referred to in BESE Bulletin 126, when conducting the investigation. In particular, the LDE did not issue to TCS a Notice of Concern, Notice of Breach, or like or similar notices.

         In a May 17, 2017 notice, the LDE advised parents and guardians of TCS students that their children had been questioned by LDE staff regarding LEAP testing and further advised that the LDE's investigatory visit would not impact the children or their assessment results.

         As a result of its investigation, the LDE decided to void 106 LEAP tests administered to students in the 2016-17 school year. The LDE advised TCS of its decision in an October 25, 2017 notice.

         On November 24, 2017, TCS provided a written response to the LDE's factual findings. Nevertheless, the LDE decided to void 106 LEAP tests administered in 2016-2017.

         The voiding of the LEAP test scores reduced TCS' School Performance Score (“SPS”) for the 2016-2017 school year and dropped its Assessment Index Score and student scores in math proficiency. Prior to the voiding of the tests, TCS had a SPS letter grade of “C” for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years. For the 2016-2017 school year, the LDE assigned an SPS of “F” to TCS.

         Under BESE regulations, a Type 2 charter school that has a failing SPS (“F” grade) has no right of renewal of its initial charter contract. According to TCS, Type 2 charter schools with SPS grades higher than F have statutory, regulatory, and contract rights to a recommendation from the State Superintendent for charter renewal and to an affirmative vote by the BESE to authorize renewal of their charters beyond their initial term.

         TCS contends that the LDE was “arbitrary, did not consider alternative measures available for measuring student performance for the 106 voided examination results, used criteria not authorized when evaluating and measuring school quality for TCS' SPS scores, and did not take into account the impact of such decision on approximately 430 students served by TCS and the educational alternatives remaining for said students in the event of TCS' closure based on failing SPS scores.” [Doc. No. 1, § 36].

         TCS further contends that the LDE violated LA. ADMIN. CODE 28:1101 B, C and G and TCS' statutory and contract rights under its Charter Contract, as well as the Louisiana Charter School Performance Compact, by voiding the 106 LEAP test results and calculating TCS's SPS rating “without an actual measure of student performance.” [Doc. No. 1, §§ 37-38].

         On December 11, 2017, BESE's School Innovation and Turnaround Committee received the LDE's recommendation of non-renewal, allegedly based on TCS'SPS score of “F.” The Committee acted in reliance on the LDE's SPS 2016-2017 report on TCS, and without notice to or input from TCS, voted to accept the recommendation of non-renewal.

         On December 12, 2017, BESE, acting on the Committee's recommendation, voted to accept the LDE's recommendation of non-renewal without notice to or input from TCS. TCS contends that BESE's decision of non-renewal was not based on a specific recommendation communicated from White to BESE, as purportedly required by state law.

         In a January 4, 2018 letter, BESE notified TCS, through the president of the board of Directors, of the non-renewal decision. As a result, TCS will close at the end of the 2017-18 school year and its approximately 430 students will need to attend another school. The other public schools in Madison Parish are also rated as failing.

         TCS contends that it did not receive the opportunity to create and implement a corrective action plan, as permitted under La. Admin. Code 28:1503B(7).

         On January 11, 2018, counsel for TCS filed a request for reopening, rehearing, and reconsideration with BESE and the LDE. BESE's Executive Director responded, summarizing BESE's prior actions and providing 139 pages of assorted records. The letter ...


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