Louisiana Record

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Orleans Parish Schools superintendent mum about denying Einstein Charter's request for deposition

By Karen Kidd | Feb 8, 2018


NEW ORLEANS — Orleans Parish Schools (OPS) Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. doesn't want to be deposed by attorneys for Einstein Charter Schools and he apparently also doesn't want to explain why.

An Orleans Parish School board spokeswoman sent a single-sentence response to the Louisiana Records' request to ask Lewis why he doesn't yet want to be deposed about his intentions while negotiating operating agreements about Einstein's requirements for student transportation. 

The spokewoman said the board would not comment on discussions with its charter schools.

Orleans Parish Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr.

Orleans Parish School Board and Lewis filed a lawsuit in Orleans Parish Civil District Court against Einstein in late November, claiming the charter school violated district policy when it failed to provide elementary students bus transportation. 

Einstein has claimed it does provide transportation via city bus tokens.

Both sides had agreed to mediation the month prior, during which time the board claims it "acted in good faith and participated in a number telephone conferences with counsel for Einstein in an attempt to amicably resolve this issue," the lawsuit said.

Last month, Civil District Court Judge Rachael Johnson blocked an attempt by Einstein attorneys to depose Lewis, at least not yet. 

"Einstein is entitled to question Dr. Lewis about his intention and comments in presenting this recommendation, especially in light of (the board's) attempt to characterize his comments through third party testimony,"  Johnson said in a Jan. 16 memorandum.

"Furthermore, Dr. Lewis verified the allegations contained in (the board's) Verified Petition for Declaratory Judgment, Injunctive Relief, and Breach of Contract and is named as a party in this litigation. (The board) cannot seriously suggest that Einstein is not entitled to depose the party plaintiff who verified the allegations in its petition."

In its request for an interview with Lewish, the Louisiana Record sought to ask Lewis why is it too early to ask about his decision process during negotiations with Einstein and what could change that; what is the goal of the board's lawsuit against Einstein; and how, after the lawsuit, will the board and Einstein repair their relationship.

Lewis has been OPS superintendent since he was unanimously selected by the board in January 2015.

Einstein CEO Shawn Toranto, in a statement issued shortly after the lawsuit was filed, said the charter school "is extremely disappointed" that the board declined to pursue mediation, a requirement of its operating agreement with Einstein. 

"The (board's) decision to file suit is yet another example where it fails to put the students' interests first," Toranto said in the statement.

Einstein has done all that is required under Louisiana law in this matter, Toranto said in the statement. 

"(The board's) refusal coupled with its decision to forego mediation demonstrates its lack of good faith and that its purpose in filing suit has little to do with prioritizing students and their education," the statement said.

"It's disappointing that those tasked with improving educational options for Orleans Parish public school children instead chose to attack successful public schools rather than tackle the hard task of the failing ones."

Johnson's memorandum last month was in response to Einstein's motion for an expedited status conference.

Einstein has been "hamstrung" by the board's delay in producing documents, Johnson said in the memorandum.

 "Once Einstein has received (the board's) discovery responses, it can appropriately proceed with depositions, including the deposition of Dr. Lewis, who was made a central figure in this litigation by (the board)," the memorandum said.

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Organizations in this Story

Civil District Court for the Parish of OrleansOrleans Parish School Board