School Climate & Safety

New Orleans Schools Unite on Expulsions

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — February 19, 2013 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This school year, most schools in New Orleans are using the same expulsion and enrollment policies and procedures for the first time since 2005, when many of the city’s schools were taken over by a state authority or converted into charter schools as the school system was rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina.

A centralized expulsion center, a new focus on identifying students who might be unwillingly leaving publicly funded schools, and a newly standardized enrollment system are among several efforts in the city that are aimed at protecting the rights of students involved in school disciplinary procedures.

The changes were spurred partly by data indicating that inconsistent and punitive discipline policies at city schools were resulting in large numbers of suspensions, expulsions, and discipline incidents.

Local educators say the changes represent a new step in the evolution of the governance of the city’s charter schools, which by design have the autonomy to create their own policies and procedures. And some say the measures introduced in New Orleans may offer lessons for other urban centers with growing charter school enrollments.

“When you have charters here and there, it’s easy to preserve 100 percent autonomy,” said Laura Hawkins, the chief of staff of the office of portfolio in the Recovery School District, the state authority created in 2003 to run low-performing schools in the state. It took over most of New Orleans’ schools after Katrina. But as the charter sector grew in New Orleans—the majority of students now attend charters—a degree of oversight became necessary to ensure that all students were being treated fairly, she said.

Limits to Autonomy

Indeed, an Education Week analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights shows the city’s charter schools suspending students at higher rates than the regular public schools in 2009-10.

Ben Kleban, the chief executive officer of New Orleans College Prep, a charter-management organization that runs two schools in the city, said that while autonomy is key to charters’ success, “that doesn’t mean that every aspect of public schooling is best left to the site level.”

He said that expulsion and enrollment, in particular, affect multiple schools in a system, and that variations in those policies can result in inequities.

“If you told me I’d be the one asking for less autonomy on something, I wouldn’t have thought that’d happen,” he said.

Advocates for student rights agree that the changes are a step in the right direction, but they say that divergent suspension policies and punitive disciplinary systems in many of the city’s charter schools remain a focus of concern.

New Orleans’ convoluted system of school governance—the Recovery School District runs 12 schools directly and oversees 56 charter schools, while the Orleans Parish school board runs six schools directly and oversees 12 charters—has been touted as a testing ground for school choice. The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools points to the city’s charter schools as an example of charters outperforming regular public schools in the same city.

But having more than 50 such schools led to more than 50 discipline policies.

“In a system of independent, autonomous schools, there are going to be fractures kids can fall through because schools don’t have the same kind of accountability,” said Jolon McNeil, the managing director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, a local advocacy group.

Single Hearing Office

The new expulsion policies were developed through the Recovery School District, or RSD, last spring with input from a group of charter school leaders. The policies are now required for schools overseen by that district, and were adopted voluntarily by schools under the Orleans Parish school board.

As of the start of this school year, every public school in the city except for the International School of Louisiana, a language-immersion charter school, uses the same list of expellable infractions and the same expulsion-hearing office, which is hosted by the RSD. Previously, each charter school or its board ran its own hearings, Ms. Hawkins said, which could lead to a conflict of interest. Noncharters used a centralized court but its high expulsion rates were drawing notice.

Most expelled students from schools throughout the city now attend a single alternative school, run by Rites of Passage, a charter operator. The centralization prevents students from moving from one school to the next without notifying the district or the new school about their disciplinary history, said Ms. Hawkins.

Ms. Hawkins said that so far this school year, she thought fewer students have been expelled, and that most of the cases brought to the central office were appropriate.

Mr. Kleban of New Orleans College Prep said that while charter school leaders involved in the working group on the new expulsion policies had strong opinions about what offenses should result in expulsion, in the end most were amenable to the new system.

“It was hard to argue with,” he said.

Issues Remain

The RSD’s Ms. Hawkins said that while centralizing the expulsion policy was an important step, the expulsion numbers don’t tell the whole story of discipline practices at a school.

“Expulsions are so rare, and an event like a fight might lead to a spike in expulsions at a school,” Ms. Hawkins said.

She said charges that students in some city charter schools are counseled out of school or leave after repeated suspensions without officially being expelled were harder to track and address.

Despite the lack of concrete data, the issue is worrisome enough that three parent centers that deal with transfers in the RSD have trained counselors to spot cases in which parents are withdrawing their children or students are leaving unwillingly, Ms. Hawkins said. She said a new standardized enrollment system would also help provide more data about when and why students switch schools.

Ashana Bigard, a parent organizer with United Students of New Orleans, a student-advocacy group, said that while the new policies were an improvement, they did not address some other issues with discipline policies. Individual charter schools can still set their own out-of-school suspension policies, for instance, she said.

Mr. Kleban, the charter-management executive, said the assertions that the city’s charter schools attempted to push students out were overblown.

He described suspensions as a tool for schools seeking to hold students accountable: “It’s not because we’re trying to push them out; it’s because we’re trying to hold them to higher expectations.”

But repeated suspensions or retentions can also increase the likelihood that students will leave school, regardless of whether they are explicitly counseled out, said Ms. Bigard. “Until they deal with the very subjective offenses and reasons you can suspend kids,” she said, “there are going to continue to be issues.”

Related Tags:

Coverage of school climate and student behavior and engagement is supported in part by grants from the Atlantic Philanthropies, the NoVo Foundation, the Raikes Foundation, and the California Endowment.
A version of this article appeared in the February 20, 2013 edition of Education Week as New Orleans Schools Set a Unified Front on Expulsions

Events

Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center & Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Addressing Disparities of Black Students with Disabilities
Nearly two years of the pandemic have taken a toll on our nation’s students – especially those in the Black community and who are living with disabilities. But, as they say, in every crisis comes
Content provided by Easterseals

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety 'Devious Lick' TikTok Trend Creates Chaos in Schools Nationwide
Shattered mirrors, missing soap dispensers, and broken toilets in school bathrooms have been linked to the "devious lick" challenge.
Simone Jasper, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
2 min read
At the new Rising Hill Elementary School in Kansas City, Mo., gender neutral student bathrooms have a common sink area for washing and individual, locking, toilet stalls that can be used by boys or girls. Principal Kate Place gave a tour of the facilities on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. The school is in the North Kansas City school district.
A gender neutral student bathroom.
Keith Myers/The Kansas City Star via AP
School Climate & Safety What the Research Says A Hallmark of School Shooters: Long History of Social Rejection
New research finds that shooters in K-12 schools are more often "failed joiners" than loners.
5 min read
Butler County Sheriff Deputies stand on the scene at Madison Local Schools, in Madison Township in Butler County, Ohio, after a school shooting on Feb. 29, 2016.
Sheriff deputies were on the scene of a shooting at Madison Local Schools, in Butler County, Ohio, in 2016.
Cara Owsley/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP
School Climate & Safety 4 Myths About Suspensions That Could Hurt Students Long Term
New longitudinal research shows that longer in- and out-of-school suspensions have severe consequences for students.
5 min read
Image of a student sitting at a desk in a school hallway.
Jupiterimages/Getty
School Climate & Safety Photos The Tense and Joyous Start to the 2021 School Year, in Photos
Students are headed back to school with the threat of the Delta variant looming. How is this playing out across the country? Take a look.