Oprah-Backed Charter School in New Orleans Denying Disabled Collides With Law

Thursday, September 22, 2011

When talk-show host Oprah Winfrey handed a $1 million check last September to the principal of New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy, 200 students watched the broadcast from a church and celebrated with a brass band.

Lawrence Melrose, a ninth-grader with learning and emotional disabilities, sat next door in a school office. The staff was concerned his fighting and cursing could be an embarrassment, said Shelton Joseph, his great uncle. Because he has trouble communicating, Lawrence needed intensive counseling and speech therapy, which the school didn?t provide, Joseph said. He was repeatedly suspended and told he couldn?t take the school bus with other kids, according to his lawyer.

The education of 16-year-old Lawrence represents a common complaint about privately run, taxpayer-financed charter schools: They often exclude children with serious disabilities or deny them the help they need, violating federal laws.

?They left me,? Joseph recalled the boy telling him on the day of the Winfrey celebration. ?They left me out.?

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