The Second Line Blog

Love for “The Children of Central City”

Through a documentary film known as The Children of Central City, city offiicials are paying more attention to the trauma and pain that plagues the neighborhood. Officials are giving voice to the need for more immediate substantive attention to these children and their lives.
“You may not live in such a community, but I can promise you that what happens there has a ripple effect on your community.”
Read more here

Back to the Future: NOLA Public Schools Return to Orleans Parish School Board

As school staff prepare for the start of the 2018-2019 school year and parents shop for the endless list of uniforms and school supplies, most residents may not have realized that state legislation passed May 2016 went into effect July 1, 2018, marking the Orleans Parish School Board’s comeback. It will now oversee the unification of the city’s public schools that had primarily been managed by the Recovery School District following hurricane Katrina.   

Admittedly, I’m feeling really unsettled as I write about the politics associated with management systems.

This comes after having my own negative experience with the city’s centralized school enrollment application, One-App where for the second year in a row my son did not receive placement in the schools I selected (all with a B performance grade or better) furthering my disdain for the enrollment system reminding me of the limited availability of quality schools. Additionally, I was able to finally view the 2014 post-Katrina documentary Big Charity: The Death of America’s Oldest Hospital, which for me, highlighted the grisly reality that those with their boots on the ground, along with those served, will never matter to and as much as those who hold power.

Parallels have always existed as health care and education are the most critical to childhood (lifespan) development, but receive the harshest blows where budgeting and funding are concerned.  I frequently hear my stepmother preach time and time again that “Your health is your wealth!”

And in conjunction to her proclamation, so is education or at least that’s what society preaches, especially to our poorest.

The parallels continue. There were discussions prior to the levees’ breach, to have a new medical system built to replace the historical, but arguably outdated Charity Hospital. Discussions took place to implement improvements to the academically and financially failing New Orleans public school system through the introduction of charter schools.  

While devastating to both New Orleans residents and those who experienced the trauma vicariously, systemic changes made after the storm proved to be beneficial in this sense.

New and safe school buildings, school bus transportation and the ability to attend school of choice despite residence to name a few.

So essentially, both in favor of a new state of the art medical center and a financially responsible and academically improved school system consisting predominantly of charter schools won.  And essentially, the students enrolled in schools beyond 2005 won as well. According to data from The Cowen Institute:

The academic performance of New Orleans’ schools has improved remarkably over the past ten years. Numerous data points mark this progress:

  • In 2005, based on academic performance, only one other parish was worse than Orleans Parish. It is now outperforming 25 parishes.
  • In 2004, just 16.5 percent of New Orleans’ students were in schools that performed above the state average performance score; in 2014, that number had nearly doubled to 31.1 percent.
  • In 2005, 62 percent of students in the city attended a failing school. That number is now down to seven percent.
  • In 2005, 56 percent of New Orleans students graduated on time. In 2014, 73 percent did.

But concerns arise regarding the cost it took to receive the outcomes, begging the question,

“Do the ends justify the means?”  For those who sought out to improve the city’s public school performance rankings in comparison both state and nationwide, sure! But for many who value academics as important as community involvement, nostalgia and culture over politics, they don’t.

So while many will argue that improved academic performance and graduation rates are most important and should trump any gripes and grievances from complaining families and community members, the harsh reality is that they don’t. There was a sense of familiarity and trust that was washed away with those receding waters we can’t ignore. With the loss of lives, homes and history compounded by the transition of a black-led school system to mainly white leaders and teachers who relocated to the city after the storm, harsher discipline practices and inefficient management of special education programming, perhaps these documented academic gains, while remarkable, may have come at the expense of many students and families slipping through the cracks. Thus making the unification an opportunity to not only continue the city’s’ streak of reinventing itself to identify the best strategy to serve a demographic that unfortunately remains negatively impacted by generational poverty, but to build a bridge between the old and the new, re-establishing trust from community members and a stronger partnership with the current leaders and educators.

 

Apparently Literacy is Not a ‘Fundamental Right’, But it Should Be

In 2018, you shouldn’t have to file lawsuits so that kids get access to teachers and books,” says Mark Rosenbaum the lead attorney in a lawsuit filed by Public Counsel, a Los Angeles based law firm, on behalf of Detroit students against state officials including Gov. Rick Snyder. The lawsuit sought to hold them accountable for systemic failures that deprived Detroit children of their right to literacy.

Lawyers for the state of Michigan argued to dismiss this lawsuit saying there is no fundamental right to literacy, subsequently the plaintiffs lawyers opposed the motion to dismiss and maintained that the city and state officials were, “all too familiar with illiteracy’s far reaching effects.” They went on to claim illiteracy contributed to Detroit’s inability to connect people to good paying careers, to fill job openings within local government, as well as growing the city overall.

After both sides presented their arguments, U.S. District judge Stephen Murphy III began his ruling. He spoke on what he believed to be the importance of literacy.

“Plainly, literacy — and the opportunity to obtain it — is of incalculable importance,” Murphy wrote in a 40-page opinion. “As plaintiffs point out, voting, participating meaningfully in civic life, and accessing justice require some measure of literacy.”

However, Judge Murphy contained that those measures, “do not necessarily make access to literacy a fundamental right.” Judge Murphy then regarded literacy as a good or service as if it was something citizens could go and obtain at a local market or have a serviceman make a service call if it was to ever need fixing.

What is a Fundamental Right?

Fundamental rights are rights that receive protection from the federal government; these rights are recognized and defended by the Supreme Court. Such protection prevents those right from being violated by federal, state, or local government. Additionally, states can add to fundamental rights, but never lessen or violate them. The core fundamental rights of the United States are:

  • Right to self-determination
  • Right to liberty
  • Right to due process of law
  • Right to freedom of movement
  • Right to freedom of thought
  • Right to freedom of religion
  • Right to freedom of expression
  • Right to peaceful assembly
  • Right to freedom of association

What is so problematic about these so called protections is that they are bound by the interpretation of judges who sit on the Supreme Court. A citizen needs a certain level of literacy to begin to understand their rights. Literacy basically ensures you fully understand the Constitution and Bill of Rights that was penned to protect you and your rights. Without the ability to read, write, and comprehend, this is impossible to accomplish. Historically, we have seen how groups of individuals suppressed literacy to oppress, enslave, and hold back generations of people. The ability to read, write, and comprehend are essential to a man’s freedom, freedom that is protected by the Bill of Rights as fundamental rights.

I personally contend that Judge Murphy and any other interpreter of the law are dead wrong when they determine that literacy is not a fundamental right. Any basic ability that allows a citizen to understand their rights has to take precedent in the determination of whether it is fundamental or not. One must be literate to understand one’s rights. That is common sense. What I am seeing here though is a continuation of the practices of yesteryear. Individuals like Judge Murphy know the way to control a group of people is to make them unable to understand and comprehend in a basic manner. It seems as if Judge Murphy may be just fine going back to a time when a human being could be killed for learning how to read. What is ironic is that as a representative of the state of Michigan, Judge Murphy could have set the bar for education nationally by determining literacy as a fundamental rights since state can add to fundamental rights. Instead, Judge Murphy decided to take the low road and go against the students of the state of Michigan and city of Detroit. I guess Judge Murphy is just doing his part in making America great again one ruling at a time.

 

How my last school choice became my first

By Garionna Price

My name is Garionna Price and I am a senior at George Washington Carver. I will be attending Illinois Wesleyan University with a full paid scholarship through the Posse Foundation Leadership Scholarship.

Prior to high school, I attended Fannie C Williams Charter School from 3rd to 8th grade. Throughout my middle school years, I was a straight A-B student. I was pretty good at math and loved reading. When I reached 8th grade and it was time to apply to high school, I knew I wanted to attend Warren Easton. It was all everyone ever talked about and it was a big popular high school. But when I didn’t get accepted, and friends around me did, I felt like I was lacking something. I was among some of the last students to be pooled into the last choice of schools.

I remember my mother and I just sitting in front of one of the OneApp volunteers. She said “ We only have Carver, Cohen, and International left. Which one do you want to go to?”  My mother asked what the schools’ grades were and Carver was the top of the three. Reluctantly, I picked Carver. I was skeptical of selecting Carver as my high school because I honestly didn’t hear anything good about the school. All I ever heard about was the legacy of the band, but nothing about the academics.

Once I began high school there, I was quiet and kept to myself because I had already made up my mind that Carver was a bad school based on the single story I had always heard. Then, to make matters worse, during my freshman year, I lost everything I owned in a house fire. Shortly afterward, my mother who was the only encouragement and support I had, passed away. During this time, I experienced a pain so excruciating I felt like I would not be able to grasp an understanding of the new terms of my life. However, this was when I learned the value of having a true Carver Ram Family. Teachers, friends, peers, and alum surrounded me in unconditional love and understanding. Sure, losing my mother made this a hard experience, but also a sobering one too. Having the support of my Ram family gave me the courage I needed to continue.

As I continued on my high school journey, I came across some obstacles, but my support system pushed me forward. I had a Ram family that believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself. That love and support started to rub off on me, especially during my 10th-grade year. I started to work harder, and apply more effort. As a result, I started to receive opportunities like joining Bard Early College, becoming a College Track scholar, and being one of the Carver scholars selected for an all expense paid summer program at Franklin and Marshall College.

These experiences along with being a Carver Ram molded my value of education and made me persevere. When my senior year came around I was recommended twice to do Posse. I had never heard of Posse and based on their presentation they provided a full tuition paid scholarship and was an early college decision program. This scared me because I was a large support for my family and I was afraid to leave them. Also, the idea of agreeing to early decision scared me. So, based on that alone, I almost let an opportunity of a lifetime pass me by. But then the support of my Ram family came to aid me again. As a result, I went through all three rounds of interviews at Posse and was the only scholar from my school to make it to the final round and receive the Posse Foundation Full-Tuition Leadership Scholarship to fund the next four years of my journey.

Moving forward with Posse, I found more to become excited about. Among, receiving a full tuition paid scholarship, I was adopted into another family of support. Posse is not just a scholarship, but also a program. You are selected to explore the next four years of your life with ten other students, your posse, from the same community that you are from and literally take a college campus, community, and later world by total storm. This opportunity has really helped me think about what my life will look like.

It has given me a fiery yearning to want to embark on this new journey. I have always wanted to be a doctor and I have a deep passion for social activism. I will study the premedical track while focusing on business. I want to also focus on business because I can approach social activism in a different way- social entrepreneurship- by doing this I can rebuild underserved communities through private ownership. I plan to do this after I have established a career in the medical field. Therefore, I am excited to expand on my goals for my future and build them up while on my journey at Illinois Wesleyan University.

I say all this to encourage students just like me, who have had a tough experience to rise to the cream of the crop. Never let your personal obstacles allow you to lose sight of your dreams. Never tell yourself no and shoot for everything you want and deserve because someone else will always be willing to tell you no. Lastly, always give your dreams space to grow and evolve as you do and absolutely plan to take the world by storm!

 

With Reunification, New Orleans Becomes the First District in the Country to Oversee a Citywide System of Public Charter Schools. Will It Work?

 

This article was first published on the74million.org

By Beth Hawkins

On July 1, the current chapter of New Orleans’s unprecedented and closely tracked school improvement effort ended, and another — arguably one with bigger potential lessons for other urban school districts — began.

For the first time since Hurricane Katrina, a local, elected school board now controls all but a handful of the city’s 86 public schools. And, since the majority of them have been converted to public charter schools since the hurricane struck in 2005, the Orleans Parish School Board is now the nation’s first district to oversee a citywide system of charters.

The inflection point, as the city’s education organizations have termed it, comes at a crucial time for both the city’s schools, which are struggling to break through an academic plateau, and policy watchers, who are anxious to see whether the first-of-its-kind system can confront long-standing equity issues in public education.

Under unification, virtually all New Orleans schools operate under a bargain cemented in state law. Schools will be run by their own boards, which will continue to decide how to staff and operate them. But as the schools’ charter authorizer, the district will hold them to a set of recently agreed-to standards and will be responsible for systemwide tasks such as transportation, enrollment, discipline, and finance.

If successful, the distribution of power could be copied by other districts struggling with tensions between a community’s need for democratic influence over its school system and the schools’ need to be buffered from constantly changing political winds.

“The governance construct alone — that’s our biggest innovation,” says Patrick Dobard, who was superintendent of the state’s Recovery School District for five years and now heads the nonprofit New Schools for New Orleans. “This summer is one of the largest milestones in years.”

The new district is markedly leaner, with 44,000 students, down from 64,000 before the storm. Only 6 percent attend schools defined as failing, as opposed to two-thirds in 2005. The graduation rate has risen from 54 percent to 73 percent, and the percentage of graduates going to college has risen from 37 percent to 61 percent. Average ACT scores are up two points, to almost 19 out of 36 — within half a point of Louisiana’s average and two points below the national average.

The number of students passing state math and reading exams almost doubled between 2005 and 2014, to 62 percent. The percentage scoring in the highest tier, “mastery,” has risen from 8 percent to 25 percent.

In May, the Orleans Parish School Board adopted a framework for holding its schools to performance standards, the final major decision to be made before the state returns the last 38 schools under its control. District administration has shrunk radically, with 98 percent of funds going to schools, as opposed to 85 percent to 90 percent in most districts.

The system remains racially and economically isolated, however. While the number of white students has risen steadily, almost all public school students are impoverished, and 87 percent are black. One-fourth of school-age residents attend private schools, one of the highest rates in the nation.

And progress has slowed. After rising from mostly Es and Fs on state report cards to a collective C in 2014, achievement reached a plateau systemwide and in 2017 declined. The number of D and F schools — now serving some 20,000 students — is expected to increase for two reasons when scores are released in a few weeks: New, higher state standards are in place this year, and a curve the state had used to grade schools as standards rose will be eliminated.

Because the city needs to hire some 900 teachers each year, New Schools for New Orleans has brought together Xavier and Loyola universities, teachNOLA, TNTP, and the Relay Graduate School of Education to jointly train 900 educators by 2020.

Finally, individual schools and school networks are heeding outside pressure to adopt stronger curricula.

The challenges are huge, says Dobard, but the city has faced longer odds in recent years. When Katrina struck a few days into the 2005 school year, New Orleans was one of the lowest-performing districts in the country. Its 117 schools needed $1.5 billion in deferred maintenance.

“The problems,” says Dobard, “just seemed too daunting to try to solve.”

In the weeks after the storm, the Louisiana Legislature passed a law giving authority over most of the city’s schools to a Recovery School District, a state entity created two years before to take over and turn around chronically underperforming schools throughout the state. (The 10 selective-admissions schools that remained under control of the Orleans Parish School Board were academically high-performing.)

As the state district reopened schools, the percentage operating as public charter schools rose quickly. Results were uneven, and families struggled to negotiate the crippled infrastructure to find seats for their children. Special education services were notoriously sparse, and with no central office to stop them, some schools refused to admit students with challenges, or expelled them.

As schools were rebuilt or replaced using $1.8 billion in federal aid, student achievement in the best-run programs rose. The recovery district began revoking the charters of schools that couldn’t bring student performance up and giving them to successful charter school networks.

As the 10th anniversary of Katrina approached, though, academic progress flagged and New Orleans residents began protesting their lack of say in their own schools, which enrolled mostly black children but were largely overseen by white outsiders. In a move that flew under the radar until the eleventh hour, city education leaders pushed to enshrine the recovery district’s autonomy-for-accountability bargain in law.

Successful schools have had the ability to return to local control since 2010, but few made the switch. Some feared re-encountering the corruption and mismanagement that had dogged the elected board in the past. Some saw no advantage to rejoining the district.

But it was clear that a landscape comprising a handful of traditional district schools that could select their students and dozens of standalone charter schools was both chaotic and inequitable. Recovery district officials started meeting with school leaders to hammer out systems aimed at making enrollment, discipline, and funding fair.

Using an algorithm modeled on the software that matches medical students to residency programs, the district created a common enrollment system. Combined with a policy mandating district oversight of suspensions and expulsions, the central repository of attendance data forced all schools to take a more equitable share of students with disabilities and challenging behaviors.

The district also created a funding formula designed to offset the costs of educating children who need extra support. In addition to a basic per-pupil allotment, schools are now given supplemental funds for students learning English, gifted and talented students, and children with varying levels of disability.

In 2016, New Orleans lawmakers introduced a bill to return the city’s schools to the local district, which would be bound by the proposed law to continue the new systems and constrained from intervening in most school-level affairs.

“We are at a very unique place in time in that we are now able to start in earnest the transition of the governance of schools in New Orleans,” Dobard told Louisiana’s House Education Committee at the time. “One of the reasons we’ve been able to be successful to a degree is that we have a very strong policymaking framework in New Orleans, one that emanates from schools, from school leaders, from those closest to the children who do the work every day.”

The measure carried, requiring the state to return its New Orleans schools to the Orleans Parish School Board by July 1, 2018. (Seven schools that are located in the city but are authorized by the state legislature and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education because of the populations they serve will remain outside the unified district.)

As the unification date approached, even the strongest proponents acknowledged doubts, topped by the fear that an elected board won’t be able to hold the line on revoking underperforming schools’ charters. Even if it can, some question whether, having made rapid progress up from rock bottom, schools will be able to surmount the challenges that most U.S. urban districts face.

Near the end of the current school year, Cypress Academy, a three-year-old school with a focus on serving children with dyslexia and other reading disabilities, abruptly announced it would not reopen in the fall. Its staffing model was not financially sustainable, board members said — a situation the New Orleans news site The Lens reported district leaders were aware of.

Following a backlash within the school community, the Orleans Parish School Board agreed to run the school for two years. Debate ensued over whether the district, now a charter school authorizer with uncertain ability or duty to intervene, should have communicated with Cypress families.

Time will tell whether the district’s novel structure will allow for both the continual problem-solving required in a large urban school system and the innovation necessary to create enough high-performing schools to serve every child in the city.

“This is work you have to stay committed to. This road is long,” says Dobard. “Victory would be 100 percent excellent schools.”

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death Do I Really Still Have To Choose?

Liberty or Death? Was that ever really an option? And if it was, then it’s time for us to stop choosing. If ever given the opportunity, we will always choose life, liberty, and independence.

Freedom is a state that most living beings want to dwell in. For humans, freedom is the right to make the basic decisions in life with your will and customized to your personal preference. I truly believe freedom is indeed a beautiful thing, but only if that freedom doesn’t have any adverse effects on anyone else. Your freedom cannot trounce, burden, or harm someone else. Independence is the state in which one can live free from the unwanted rule or burden from someone else or another groups’ unsolicited opinion of how my life should be conducted.

I ask myself often are we living with those basic truths and are we ever truly free or truly independent? I personally believe to live free one has to be willing to let everything go and not become a slave to those things not natural to our human condition. We can make our self free and yes, even in a state of captivity, freedom is possible. Freedom, though outwardly displayed as physical, is a state of mind that is a personal choice and controlled by you and you alone through your actions and your thoughts.

Independence on the other hand seems to be directly affected by the actions of man. Over the course of history and throughout time, we find individuals and groups of people who have had to ask, demand and even fight for their independence from another man, woman or groups of people. Independence seems to be the dark sheep of life that has no problem taking away one’s freedom. We have seen this from rebellions in Greece and Indonesia, Yugoslavian and Turkish uprising and countless battles and wars throughout the world that independence is not free and it is questioned and challenged over and over again throughout time.

More recently we have seen in 2012 Ren Jianyu was sentenced to two years in a labor camp for political re-education in China for speaking out against government policies and ordering a T-shirt online that said, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.” We also see in America, there is a claim of freedom which is protected by the Constitution; however, in our so called democracy, freedom is constantly tested by a government that continuously passes laws and policies that contest our independence. Plus, the actions of many individuals or groups constantly challenge our freedom. This shows that centuries of conflicts still hasn’t curtailed the actions surrounding freedom and independence

So freedom to me would be me not having to have a talk with my son about how to conduct himself when stopped by the police and him not being more likely to be stopped because he is a young black man. Freedom would be me not worrying about my daughter’s natural hair when she goes to school or if someone will see her nonconforming actions as just that of another angry black woman. Freedom would be groups of immigrants not being held to a different standard than others and families unwillingly separated. Freedom would represent me as a black man without a higher likelihood to die from an encounter with police. Freedom would be individuals not judged by anything but the content of their character and their actions. And at the bare minimum, freedom would be a populace who doesn’t for any circumstances whatsoever find the need to have to make a choice of Liberty or Death because enough people have paid the cost of Death for me.

 

Restorative Process

By Kyelah Vincent

My name is Kyelah Vincent and I am a sophomore at Abramson Sci Academy. My school is very different and very involved with the community. I feel that Sci is different because we focus on being a team. If we can work as a team we can trust each other.

One of the main topics we focus on here at Sci is the fact that we are a family and we should all get along. The restorative process is here to assure us that we can have altercations but don’t let the altercations get in the way of your dreams.

“The main concept we want our students to walk away with is that we all make mistakes,” said Cornelius Dukes, Dean of Students. “Own your mistakes and be open to moving forward and listen to the perspective of others while fixing the conflict.”

Restorative practices are tools we use to get over the block in the road. We all make mistakes but we should use the tools that are given to us to correct those mistakes and build from them. The restorative practice follows you through life, not only does it help you through your high school career it also forms you into a mature young adult that is ready to take on any challenge. The tools we use come in handy when in a real life-situation, we can’t walk away from life so when we feel overwhelmed I believe the best thing to do is to voice your opinion.

My past experience with discipline didn’t work out so well, I let my emotions get the best of me and control my actions. Coming into high school I was insecure about how I felt about myself. I was more focused on fitting in and trying not to be under the spotlight, I didn’t realize the impact I was having on other people.

People were looking up to me and I wasn’t being a role model. I was more focused on trying to fit in with the crowd and not focused on my big goals in life. I had group and self- mediations, until I realized that I was the problem. I wasn’t giving myself enough credit for the amazing leader I am. The mediation process helped me a lot, they helped me realize that not everyone is who they say they are.

My insecurities made me feel like I was less of a leader, but then I realized other people had insecurities too that’s why it was harder for us to get along. The conflict was mainly over jealousy, or something minor that escalated into a bigger issue for no reason.

When we both sat down to talk about the issue, it was always a way to avoid physically getting our anger out. We use our words to help us relieve some stress and to hopefully get rid of some of the anger, like I said before we need to listen to other people’s perspective. You will never know what someone is going through unless you sit down and talk to them.

With the skills I have, I help the people around me. When I see someone doubting themselves or making themselves feel bad, I help them focus on the bigger picture and ensure them that they are better than what they think. I have helped Freshman, Sophomores, Juniors and even Seniors.

“I’ve seen Kyelah grow a lot this year,” said Sasha Myers, English II teacher. “Most kids don’t have these skills. I’ve seen her have an altercation, and she created a mediation space outside of class to resolve it. I’ve never seen her academics being affected. The leadership qualities she has are rare in a student her age. She takes a burden off of me with her leadership skills by helping other teammates when she sees them struggling, so I can help other students.”

 

Why the Supreme Court Matters for Education Rights

Given Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision to retire, teachers might consider reviewing a civics lesson on why the judicial system is crucial for the advancement of civil rights. Many people do not realize that most of what we have achieved or not achieved in the United States in terms of civil rights is because of the judicial system. I know I did not, until I took a civil rights class in law school and truly began to understand the strength and impact of the Court’s rulings. Take for instance, Brown v. Board of Education, which most of us know is the Supreme Court decision that ended segregation in schools. In law school, I realized this court case essentially ended all the recalcitrance and institutionalized racism in a post-Jim Crow Congress. Though it took years and a number of local court cases to enforce the decision, essentially, it was the courts that forced the change.

To summarize what I learned in high school government class and reviewed in law school, our government is founded upon the “checks and balances” of three separate powers: Congress, the lawmaking or legislative branch, the President, or departmental/administrative branch, and the Supreme Court, our judicial branch. This may seem a bit rudimentary, but it’s extremely important when we look at civil rights, and in particular, education rights.

The role of the court is to ensure that as a society and a nation we are living in alignment with the principles that are laid out in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Now we all know that has not always happened. Often times throughout history, laws that were passed by Congress were upheld because the justices themselves were narrow minded and unable to adjust their own moral compasses beyond the collective consciousness, but some of the biggest strides that we have made as a nation have been because this group of men and women were able to see beyond present social norms and morals and move us further in the direction of our principles of equality and justice.

In education, the Supreme Court ruled that all students have the right to education, no matter one’s legal status in the United States. Because of this ruling, students who are undocumented are able to attend our school system. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Court ended legally sanctioned segregation in our schools. This ruling changed the very makeup of our society. Time and time again, it has ensured the inclusion of non-Christian students by banning over-reaching forms of prayer at school. To this day, these rulings are protecting the school as an inclusive environment. I think back to high school, when my school banned the confederate flag because it was causing too much animosity towards students of color, including me. It was because of previous court rulings, which set the limits of what schools could and could not consider free speech, that the administrators were able to protect us. In contrast, there have been other times it has failed to set clear guidance to protect children. Last year, the Court refused to hear a case on a transgender student’s right to have an all gender bathroom. We can see then, how important the Supreme Court is for our children to truly have educational opportunities and create a safe and supportive environment.

This is why it is incredibly frightening that Justice Kennedy is retiring. Though Kennedy was also elected during a conservative administration, he was often a centrist voice on the Court, and was known as a swing vote. He has helped move our nation in the direction of equality and justice. But with the current administration able to choose a new justice, and the ability of the court to reverse previous rulings, many of our civil rights that we take for granted are at stake. I fear for the students in New Orleans who are undocumented and for students who face other challenges to education access, including disabilities, sexual orientation, or gender. I am especially fearful for students who are not Christian, and in particular Muslim students, after the Court’s recent ruling in favor of the Muslim ban and the Louisiana legislature’s continuous push towards school prayer. With this in mind, teachers in our schools must be aware of the power of the Supreme Court and to help students also understand that the judicial system is not just about criminal law. It also has given us certain rights and we must watch closely what happens with the Supreme Court to protect them.