NEW ORLEANS – A group of current and former employees and parents of students at Lusher Charter School are claiming that the school is not using funds earmarked for gifted student services properly.
The school also is facing accusations that Lusher has misled middle school parents and state officials about individualized education plans (IEPs) for gifted students. Concerns have been raised about IEPs being signed by teachers at Lusher who do not have an active role in the children's education.
However, Lusher chief executive officer Kathy Riedlinger said it is common for someone not involved in the teaching of a gifted student to sign off on these plans.
“The exceptionality with teaching a gifted student is the specialized learning plan and adherence to that by the instructor and the student,” Riedlinger told the Louisiana Record. “Lusher provides an accelerated academic and arts-integrated track that specifically addresses gifted children and their need for accelerated activities.”
Riedlinger said no issues have arisen at the school related to which educators sign off on the IEPs.
“If it would become an issue, say with a student transferring in from another school, we would simply redo the IEP,” Riedlinger said.
In addition, concerns have been raised about IEPs being signed by teachers who do not have gifted certification. In response, Riedlinger said charter school teachers do not have to be certified unless their salaries are paid for with federal money.
“All charter school teachers, including gifted teachers, must have a bachelor’s degree,” Riedlinger said. “Charter schools are given the flexibility, in their approved contract with their authorizing agent, in hiring and the creation of innovative academic programming.”
At Lusher, Riedlinger said gifted and high-achieving students make up a large majority of the student population. She said instruction is accelerated and geared by content, rigor and pace to each gifted student, and there are times when assignments are different for gifted students within one classroom.
“The concept of differentiation is a common one for all classroom teachers at Lusher,” Riedlinger said. “Gifted students are clearly identified and teachers are responsible for goals outlined on the student's IEP.”
Riedlinger said the funding in question is used to help cover the cost of salaries of gifted teachers, and each grade level at Lusher has two or more teachers who are identified as gifted teachers and work on the IEP goals for these students.
According to Riedlinger, gifted students are recognized as a part of special education in Louisiana. In addition, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 includes gifted students in an area that needs to be addressed, along with disadvantaged students. Riedlinger said ESSA requires districts to identify and serve gifted children.
According to information released by the National Associated for Gifted Children, there are several provisions in ESSA that support gifted and talented students.
The association said ESSA specifically notes that districts may use Title I funds to identify and serve gifted and talented students; ESSA now allows states to use computer adaptive assessments as the format for state assessments used for accountability purposes and authorizes grant funding to states to develop those assessments; and districts may use Title II professional development funds to provide training on gifted education-specific instructional practices.
The 2016-2017 school year serves as a transition year for ESSA, the association said. Applications for Title I and other formula grants began on July 1. Other federal grant programs were scheduled to take effect in October. State accountability plans will go into effect in the 2017-2018 school year.