EBR board to discuss school remakes

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board will consider Thursday contesting, perhaps in court, a recent state decision shooting down requests to remake Delmont Elementary and Mayfair Middle schools, moves aimed in part at averting possible state takeover of these low-performing schools.

The agenda item, added Tuesday, would authorize Superintendent Bernard Taylor to “take those steps necessary, including the institution of appropriate legal action,” to address the July 11 denial by the Louisiana Department of Education.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. Thursday at the School Board Office, 1050 S. Foster Drive.

In a July 11 letter, state Superintendent of Education John White explained the school system’s requests for Delmont and Mayfair offered “nothing regarding improvement for students affected and instead forcibly moves hundreds of them to different school sites with no guarantee of admission to a school with a strong track record.”

Alerted on Wednesday about possible legal action by the parish school system, White issued a written statement.

“I hope that, rather than talking about lawsuits and moving students from place to place, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board will focus its efforts on improving struggling schools and helping every parent find a school with a great track record,” said White.

Immediately after White announced the denials on July 11, Taylor promised to proceed with the changes at Delmont and Mayfair and seek to have the state’s denial overturned. On Friday, he followed up with a letter to Delmont and Mayfair parents saying that “this situation will not impact the opening of the school” on Aug. 12, the first day of the 2013-14 school year.

The school system has been seeking permission to close both schools and obtain new site codes for them. If those requests had been approved, Delmont and Mayfair would have started the school year fresh with new school performance scores.

The rejection of those requests, however, means that the new schools Taylor is creating will be saddled with the low scores of the past. Consequently, the state can seek to take over both campuses this school year and place them in the state’s Recovery School District.

In an interview Wednesday, Taylor downplayed the possibility of a lawsuit. He said he is asking the state first to reconsider the denial and is preparing more information justifying the requests.

“We just want to solicit guidance (from board members) as to what options lie before them, and get direction from them as to what they’re willing to pursue and what they’re willing to entertain,” Taylor said.

Taylor said White’s denial letter did not lay out the appeal process, but he said he intends to appeal.

“I am confident that we will show that every student has been transferred to a higher performing school,” he said.

The School Board voted March 21 to convert Delmont from a traditional elementary school to a school with just prekindergarten and kindergarten; the older students are transferring to Howell Park and Winbourne elementary schools instead.

That same night, the board also voted to close Mayfair Middle and reopen it as an elementary school, starting with grades kindergarten to two, and has a contract with LSU Lab School to operate the new school. Mayfair’s current students are being reassigned to Glasgow, Westdale and Woodlawn middle schools.

Since then, Delmont and Mayfair have brought in new leaders and teaching staffs.