The state Board of Education voted today to reject a report on diversity efforts by the Haas Hall Academy charter school in Northwest Arkansas for failure to provide all the information requested. It must report further in April. It also began dealing with apparent collapse of Covenant Keepers Charter School in Little Rock.

Because of past questions about the lottery process at the school and the low percentage of minority and other categories of students, the school was required to report annually on diversity outreach and student demographics. Among the items being reviewed are racial demographics, poverty, student recruitment, special education and English Language Learner programs.

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Some of that information was lacking and Board member Susan Chambers made the motion to reject it and seek more information. The motion passed on a voice vote with no audible objection. It was mentioned that Education Department officials will be on hand to monitor the school’s coming lottery, a process that critics contend have been manipulated.

A former marketing officer for the school, Heather Holoway, spoke before the board and said that the school was not being held accountable because it found ways to evade efforts by the department to enforce standards. Elizabeth Lyon-Ballay, also made a presentation for the board on what she believed to be shortcomings in the Haas report, particularly on special education and school leadership diversity. The school’s report showed some improvement in minority enrollment at its various campuses. It still has a noticeably smaller percentage of poor students (measured by lunch subsidy eligibility) than  surrounding public school districts. The Board also received an assessment from a special education specialist on the schools’ handling (mishandling in her view) of a family’s complaint on services. It notes $10,000 spent on a law firm to get a due process complaint dismissed.

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Chambers wanted to know more about the demographics of the pool of people who apply to participate in the enrollment lottery. The state says it doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know, so that students may be blind as to characteristics in the lottery. But Chambers said she believed it was possible to separate students names from their characteristics to get an idea of the shape of the pool seeking application to compare with the makeup of those accepted.

Haas Hall offers college prep-style academics and regularly leads the state in standardized test scores. Given its low percentage of minority, poor, non-English-speaking and special ed students, national experience says it should be expected to have higher scores.

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Critics of the school contend school practices, both in admission lottery and operation, tend to discourage lower-performing students.

In other business, the Board indicated it would be moving to deal with new problems at Covenant Keepers charter school in Little Rock. It had on the agenda to accept a voluntary nonrenewal of the charter. But given the recent news of the disappearance of school money because of withdrawals by former leader Valerie Tatum, the board said it will review the voluntary nonrenewal.
At a special charter school advisory panel meeting  this afternooon, the panel recommended that Friendship Academy, with an elementary school on 25th Street, add middle school grades immediately so it could take the Covenankeeper’s some 100 students. The Board of Education met later to continue that process of a transition of the school away from Covenant Keepers.

ALSO: The state Board extended for three years the charter for the Pine Bluff Lighthouse Charter School. It had been recommended for closure for academic deficiencies in December by an advisory panel. The board accepted arguments that improvements were being made.