Academic journal article High School Journal

Rebuilding Inequity the Re-Emergence of the School-to-Prison Pipeline in New Orleans

Academic journal article High School Journal

Rebuilding Inequity the Re-Emergence of the School-to-Prison Pipeline in New Orleans

Article excerpt

After a state take-over of most local schools, the fate of public education in New Orleans has been clouded by uncertainty. However, many problems are already clear. The community has expressed outrage on numerous occasions about the management, conditions, policies, and practices of the RSD schools.

One fundamental concern has been about the lack of basic resources essential for success in any educational environment let alone one formed after the worst natural disaster in American history. These resources include: textbooks; desks for students; a sufficient number of experienced and well-trained teachers; to the failure to deliver services to children with special learning needs; counseling services to help children cope with trauma and grief extracurricular activities; and hot lunches for children, many of whom continue to live in or near poverty. Another prominent concern is that many RSD schools exhibit what students have referred to as a prison-like atmosphere while their discipline policies penalize and remove students instead of providing support them an d facilitating positive growth.

Prior to Katrina, harsh discipline policies and school arrests forced many children out of New Orleans schools, putting them at-risk or directly involved in the juvenile justice system. While this phenomenon pre-dated Katrina, it is now being replicated in the new "network" of schools operated by local and state officials and various charter groups. The confluence of these factors--lack of resources and the failure to provide quality education, combined with overly harsh and punitive discipline policies that criminalize and exclude youth from traditional education settings--has created what many now call the School-to-Prison Pipeline. It is this issue that juvenile justice and education advocates alike believe to be at the forefront of the fight for children's rights in post-Katrina New Orleans.


There is no disputing that in New Orleans we stand at a crossroads of unfathomable destruction and incredible promise. Much of the rebuilding of infrastructure and public systems in the Crescent City aims to preserve and reconstruct our strengths while learning from the lessons of our past weaknesses. The efforts currently underway by juvenile justice advocates and education groups mirror these trends.

Despite the many dedicated professionals in its ranks, the public school system in New Orleans prior to Katrina was riddled with a history of financial mismanagement, abysmal test scores, crumbling facilities, notorious incidents of school violence, blatant racial segregation and repeated media slams highlighting these issues.

Due in part to these factors, as well as a toxic and racially charged political environment, the Louisiana State Legislature voted on November 30, 2005, to take into receivership 107 New Orleans Public Schools that performed at or below the state average in 2004-2005. (1) This legislative action, which changed the metric by which schools were measured, created the state-run Recovery School District (RSD). (2) Its aim was to "fix" our ailing schools. Currently, the RSD has direct control over 19 schools as well as oversight of an additional fifteen charter schools, with a total enrollment of 16,569 students. (3) All RSD schools offer open enrollment, with no academic or behavioral entrance requirements. The Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) was left in control of four traditionally run schools, one "PM" school for students who work during the daytime, and twelve charter schools for a total enrollment of 9,195 students. (4) All OPSB traditionally run schools, as well as some OPSB charter schools, maintain "selective admission" requirements. (5)

It has been said again and again that, the city of New Orleans, once "notorious for having one of the worst public school systems in the country, has emerged from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as an experiment in education. …

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