Don’t Close Schools, Fix Schools! Wednesday, Mar 18 2015 

Children should not be punished because adults violated the law.

Children should not be punished because adults violated the law.

For many years parents and special education advocates have alerted the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) of special education violations in the charter system in New Orleans. Years before the creation of the Recovery School District (RSD), I did the same with the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB). In my experience as an advocate, the problems we saw with OPSB schools and special education, pale in comparison to what we see now with this new landscape of public education in New Orleans. Worse yet, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and the LDOE believes that an adequate solution to the special education violations at Lagniappe Academies, is to close the school. These same entities did not exact that punishment on other schools in New Orleans that also violated special education laws. The Southern Poverty Law Center detailed numerous violations over a period of several years in multiple schools, in their federal complaint and subsequent federal lawsuit. Yet, not one school in New Orleans over the last 4 years was closed due to special education violations. Nor is closing schools an element in the Consent Decree to correct those violations. When I think back to my own children’s schools, even on my maddest day at McMain High School, when the principal refused to provide an accommodation that my son needed, I never saw closing the school as the solution to that violation. It is illogical to me to close a school to fix a special education violation.   I do not support closing schools, as a form of accountability, not even the closure of charter schools. There are better solutions that punish the violators, and do not destabilize the education of children. I support corrective action plans to correct the problems so that children can get special education services they need. I support revoking charter contracts and returning schools to the elected school board as an option that shows that the department of education is tough on special education violations. It should be the decision of the elected school board whether or not to seek a new charter operator or run the school as a direct operated school. The department of education has had it’s chance at operating public education as a business, and when charter schools fail to uphold the law, it’s time for their participation in the experiment to end in a responsible way that protects children.   When the state department of education failed to provide adequate monitoring and oversight of Lagniappe Academy and other charter schools in New Orleans for years, it set the stage for the alleged egregious violations at Lagniappe Academies. The  (LDOE) Louisiana Department of Education does not have the staff or the funding to look deeply into every charter school to uncover special education violations that are not exposed by parent complaints or whistleblowers, but it should if it wants to continue to recommend charter schools as a solution to our troubled public education system. Clearly such a wide open, market based system of independent, privately managed charter schools with expanded autonomy, deserves a robust system of monitoring and oversight. The Louisiana Legislature, The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Louisiana Department of Education share equally in the blame with the Lagniappe Academies Charter Board and administration for the violations discovered after being tipped off by 2 former Lagniappe Academies employees. In a system built on the idea of choice, there is a responsibility to protect the choice parents have made, not punish them for being in a city where over 90% of the schools are charter schools.   There is something fundamentally flawed with an education reform strategy that closes schools rather than fixing them.  Never has this been made more clear than now as parents at Lagniappe Academy prepare to look for new schools for their children because adults failed to create the kind of landscape of public education that values every child. I call on everyone to rethink closing schools as accountability. Contact your elected officials, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the State Department of Education today and encourage a more child centered approach to education reform.

Choice as a Red Herring Friday, Jun 22 2012 

There’s so much talk about “choice” as a strategy in public education reform. This rhetoric distracts us from the real barriers to educating ALL children. The push for school choice at any cost is very destructive to the most vulnerable children, and it leads to the destruction our democracy. Public education serves a real purpose for the common good, just like police protection and fire protection. As neighborhood residents concerned about crime, we don’t buy private patrols in lieu of public police protection for all. We buy private patrols in addition to public police protection. Private patrols and private schools are private choices and should be funded PRIVATELY. When individual choice makes education funding inadequate for children whose parents are unable to choose for them, society will suffer, so does the child.

Let us not be fooled by “choice” as the great equalizer in improving public education. We must stop the reform rhetoric and move towards REAL reform.


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