Arkansas Department of Education
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State of Arkansas takes over Lee County district

March 26, 2019
State Board of Education steps in after district is placed on probation for violating accreditation standards.

The Arkansas Board of Education has voted to assume control of the Lee County School District, a decision that immediately removes Superintendent Elizabeth Johnson and the district's board.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports the 8-0 vote followed an initial state board decision to place the Lee County district and Lee County High School on probation for violating state accreditation standards that require maintenance of accurate student records for graduation.

The board rejected an appeal by Johnson and her staff that the 718-student district not be placed on probation.

Deborah Coffman, the state Department of Education assistant commissioner for public school accountability, told the state board that the Lee County district violated state standards by failing to maintain accurate, up-to-date transcripts for its students, and that parents and students were not given timely notice of issues affecting students' eligibility for graduation.

As for the high school, Coffman said, students expecting to graduate did not have appropriate guidance to schedule the 22 course credits necessary to graduate.

"This is egregious and needs to be resolved immediately," Coffman says. "Without immediate intervention, 35 of the 56 seniors will not graduate on time or will graduate with an incomplete or incorrect transcript."

The state has intervened in the district before. The state took over operations in 2014 becasue of academic, financial and accreditation issues, including problems with course coding and class scheduling that hindered students' ability to graduate. In April 2017, the district was cited for failing to meet the state-required students-to-counselor ratio and for failing to offer and teach the minimum 38 courses required for a high school.

"The Lee County School district over the last five years has had a lot of history with the Education Department and the board," Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key says. "In light of that history and the severity of these violations ... the department recommends reconstitution of the leadership of the school district ... by removing permanently the superintendent" and the school board.

Key said he expects to appoint someone to oversee the district by early next week. In the interim, Mike Hernandez, state superintendent for the office for coordinated  upport and service, and his team will oversee the district.

Five districts in Arknsas now are operating under state control: Lee County, Little Rock, Dollarway, Earle and Pine Bluff.

Johnson, the superintendent in Lee County since March 2018, said after the votes that she and her staff had anticipated the outcome but were disappointed by it.

She says current administrators are being penalized for the work of past administrators.

"We came back to help," Johnson says, "and we would never ever violate any standards, knowingly."

But Coffman told the state board that district staff members were not entirely forthcoming in the department's meetings with the school system.

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