The Orleans Parish School Board is taking Einstein Charter Schools to court over the school group's transportation policy. The board filed a petition in Orleans Parish Civil District Court Wednesday, asking the court to declare Einstein in breach of its charter contract and allow OPSB to force Einstein to bus students.
Unlike almost every other public school in Orleans Parish, Einstein's four schools do not provide yellow bus transportation for students. Parents are expected to drive their children to school or pay for private van service. The school says it provides RTA tokens, but parents say they don’t want young children taking public transit alone. Einstein has about 1,400 students across its four campuses.
The parish school board says this transportation policy is not in line with district requirements for charter schools and is a breach of its charter contract.
"Einstein has blatantly failed to provide the transportation services expressly set forth," OPSB attorney Sharonda Williams wrote in the court petition.
Under OPSB policy and state policy (BESE Bulletin 119) the district says it requires nearly all charter schools, including Einstein, to provide free, yellow-school-bus transportation to students grades six and under who live more than a mile from school.
Williams notes that in addition to the charter contract renewal signed in July 2017, Einstein signed two written assurances that the school group would follow district transportation policy.
However, in a written statement, Einstein Charter School CEO Shawn Toranto maintained that the charter group has "complied with Louisiana law and its obligations for the provision of free transportation to its students."
How we got here
As WWNO originally reported, the issues came to light earlier this fall when an Einstein parent complained at a OPSB meeting that Einstein families were not offered transportation. OPSB issued Einstein a letter of noncompliance in September, but Einstein pushed back and requested out-of-court mediation to resolve their dispute.
According to OPSB court filings, the situation devolved after that, with Einstein failing to provide OPSB officials information they requested during conference calls.
"During those telephone conferences, the OPSB repeatedly requested that Einstein provide details about the transportation services it currently provides, but Einstein has not been forthcoming with such details," the OPSB court petition reads.
Court documents show Einstein attorney Lee Reid did provide an email saying that RTA tokens are provided to students in all grades at no charge and that "all other transportation options are the responsibility of parents."
Documents also show Einstein asked to delay mediation until January 2018, but that OPSB did not want students to go any longer without being provided buses.
"Einstein is extremely disappointed that the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) chose not to pursue mediation as required under its Operating Agreement with Einstein," Toranto wrote in her statement.
The operating agreement allows OPSB and Einstein 45 days from the notification of dispute to enter into mediation, and after that period, states that "the Parties may proceed to pursue any and all legal remedies related to the dispute issue." Williams notes that it has been 48 days since Einstein requested mediation.
Editor's note: Einstein Charter Schools is a WWNO underwriter.