Law & Courts

Lawsuits Say Too Few Schools Open in New Orleans

By Lesli A. Maxwell — February 14, 2006 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The New Orleans teachers’ union and a lawyer for several local families have sued to force the opening of more public schools in the storm-ravaged city, but state education officials contend that enough space is available at the schools already operating.

In separate lawsuits, the United Teachers of New Orleans and a citizens’ group allege that hundreds of children are not being educated because public schools in New Orleans have turned them away.

“It’s unconscionable to me that schools are still closed and parents are having to look for places to send their children,” said Brenda Mitchell, the president of the union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. “How do they expect to rebuild this city if they can’t offer schools to parents and children who are returning?”

Two more K-8 public schools are slated to open this week in New Orleans and will serve up to 600 students, said Meg Casper, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Education. That will bring the number of public schools now open in the city to 20, with room for 10,600 students.

Not Walking Distance

Before Hurricane Katrina struck Aug. 29, causing broken levees and a devastating flood that left much of the city uninhabitable, the New Orleans district operated 117 schools for roughly 65,000 students. Now, 102 of those public schools are part of a state-run “recovery district” created by the Louisiana legislature last fall to rehabilitate the city’s low-performing schools.

“We have no indication that kids are being turned away from schools,” said Ms. Casper, who added that state education officials have been working diligently to help parents who contact them find schools for their children.

“Part of the challenge is that parents can’t just necessarily walk to the school nearest their home and get their children in. … [I]t could be that if they found out there’s no room, they might have stopped there,” she added.

Ms. Casper cited enrollment numbers from Feb. 3, when 9,004 children were attending New Orleans public schools, which had the capacity to serve 10,000 students. She said it was still possible that more schools would open this academic year.

‘Reopen That School’

“It depends on the demand, though, because what we are not going to do is open a school without the students to fill it,” Ms. Casper said.

But Asta Levene, whose 10-year-old son Angelo attended McDonough #15 Elementary School in the French Quarter before the storm, said she tried, and failed, to enroll him in any of the reopened public elementary schools. “None would take him, so I sent him to St. Paul Lutheran across town,” Ms. Levene said in an interview last week. “But it was too expensive and too far away.”

Since mid-January, Ms. Levene has been home-schooling Angelo while she and her neighbors campaign to have McDonough #15 reopened as a charter school. Most of the reopened schools in the city are charters.

“They should reopen that school,” Ms. Levene said. “There’s hardly any damage, and there are nearly 200 parents who want their children to be able to go to school there.”

Tracie L. Washington, who filed a class action on behalf of families with children who have been turned away, said the young people she sees around the city on school days are evidence that more schools need to be opened. “I drive down streets every day and see kids on their bikes; they are not in school,” she said.

Most days, Ms. Washington said, she asks the district to supply her with a list of parents who have contacted the district complaining they can’t find schools for their children.

“For example, on February 3, there were calls about problems enrolling 11 prekindergartners, 10 kindergartners, four 1st graders, and on and on,” she said. “That’s just one day.”

A Feb. 17 hearing is scheduled in the case filed by Ms. Washington. Though several families she represents have now been able to enroll their children in school, the New Orleans lawyer said she would have additional families in court with her this week who have not found spots for their children.

Ms. Mitchell, whose union represents roughly 4,000 New Orleans teachers who have not returned to their jobs since Hurricane Katrina struck, said she was waiting for the first hearing to be scheduled in that lawsuit.

In a related development, a court order in a separate lawsuit filed by several New Orleans district employees to delay the firing of 8,500 district employees until Feb. 8 was extended to Feb. 13.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue
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
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Student Achievement Webinar Examining the Evidence: What We’re Learning From the Field About Implementing High-Dosage Tutoring Programs
Tutoring programs have become a leading strategy to address COVID-19 learning loss. What evidence-based principles can district and school leaders draw on to design, implement, measure, and improve high-quality tutoring programs? And what are districts

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

Law & Courts Supreme Court Weighs a Type of Damages Schools Can Face in Civil Rights Lawsuits
The issue involves compensation for "emotional distress," and the case holds implications for suits brought under Title IX and other laws.
6 min read
Crumpled Up Dollar Bill
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Law & Courts Opinion What the Law Says About Parents' Rights Over Schooling
The rallying cry of “parental freedom” perpetuated racial segregation, writes a legal scholar. So why would we let it dictate curriculum?
Joshua Weishart
5 min read
People hold signs and chant during a meeting of the North Allegheny School District school board regarding the district's mask policy, at at North Allegheny Senior High School in McCandless, Pa., on Aug. 25, 2021. A growing number of school board members across the U.S. are resigning or questioning their willingness to serve as meetings have devolved into shouting contests over contentious issues including masks in schools.
People at a school board meeting in late August protest the mask policy set by the North Allegheny school district in Western Pennsylvania.
Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
Law & Courts Justice Dept. to Pay $127.5M to Parkland Massacre Victims' Families
Attorneys for 16 of the 17 killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland said they had reached a confidential monetary settlement.
Terry Spencer, Miami Herald
2 min read
In this Feb. 15, 2018, file photo, law enforcement officers block off the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., following a deadly shooting at the school.
In this Feb. 15, 2018, file photo, law enforcement officers block off the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., following a deadly shooting at the school.
Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo
Law & Courts Can Public Money Go to Religious Schools? A Divisive Supreme Court Case Awaits
The justices will weigh Maine's exclusion of religious schools from its "tuitioning" program for students from towns without high schools.
13 min read
The Carson family pictured outside Bangor Christian School in Bangor, Maine on Nov. 5, 2021.
Institute for Justice senior attorney Michael E. Bindas, left, accompanies Amy and David Carson who flank their daughter, Olivia, outside Bangor Christian Schools in Maine in early November. The Carsons are one of two families seeking to make religious schools eligible for Maine's tuition program for students from towns without high schools.
Linda Coan O’Kresik for Education Week