FBI descends on Kenilworth charter school

Advocate staff photo by RYAN BROUSSARD -- Federal and state and law enforcement agents raided the Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School in Baton Rouge on Wednesday afternoon. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by RYAN BROUSSARD -- Federal and state and law enforcement agents raided the Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School in Baton Rouge on Wednesday afternoon.

Evidence carted from Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter

State and federal agents descended Wednesday upon the Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School and carted away boxes from the Baton Rouge school.

But details of their investigation remained a closely guarded secret, as school and law enforcement officials refused to discuss the reason for the visit.

More than a dozen agents wheeled several boxes — stacked three to four high — on a dolly and fit them like puzzle pieces in the back of a large, unmarked white van parked by the front doors. Several people could be seen inside the school’s front office rifling through files as agents in the hall stacked boxes to be loaded into the van.

Mary Beth Romig, an FBI spokeswoman in New Orleans, confirmed agents had gone to the school, in the 7600 block of Boone Avenue, but would not even confirm which agencies were on the scene.

“It was not an issue related to public safety,” Romig said.

In addition to the FBI, the state Office of Inspector General and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office also responded to the school.

School officials, including Principal Hasan Suzuk, referred inquiries about the raid to Mark Lambert, a spokesman for the charter school, who was equally tight lipped. The school is cooperating fully with law enforcement, Lambert said, adding classes would resume Thursday.

The school’s website was down Wednesday evening.

“The only thing I can really say is we’ve been cooperating,” Lambert said. “The school is not in a position to say any more.”

Walt Green, the acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana, said, “We just can’t comment at this time.” A call to state Superintendent of Education John White was not immediately returned late Wednesday.

Eugene Kennedy, a professor of education at LSU and a member of the board for the Pelican Educational Foundation, which operates Kenilworth, said he knew nothing about the raid and had no idea what prompted it.

The board will likely convene to discuss the matter, Kennedy said, adding he’s not sure when that might be.

Another board member, Yusuf Dag, referred questions to Lambert.

Charter schools are public schools run by non-governmental boards and are supposed to offer innovative methods without much of the red tape found in traditional public schools.

Pelican Educational Foundation won the charter to take over Kenilworth Middle School in 2009 and renamed it Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School. The charter was authorized by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to take over Kenilworth Middle School after years of academic and other problems.

Last Thursday, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education agreed to renew the charter for five more years, extending the school’s charter through 2019.

That news came on the heels of performance scores released in October that showed Kenilworth was among just five schools in East Baton Rouge Parish that improved by more than one grade level since last year.

Kenilworth, the only charter school in Baton Rouge overseen by the Recovery School District, jumped from an F last year to a C grade this year.

School officials said in a recent news release that 59 percent of Kenilworth students are performing at or above grade level, an increase over a mark of 40 percent before the school’s conversion to a charter school.

State Department of Education officials launched an investigation into Kenilworth in 2011, but the status of that probe was not clear late Wednesday.