The Second Line Blog

OPINION: In New Orleans School,Segregation and Inequity Persist

In the year 1865, the Louisiana legislature began implementing laws that paved the way for racial segregation. These laws were known as black codes and had historically regulated the autonomy of slaves. The black codes were more prominent in northern Louisiana cities. However, in southern Louisiana cities, such as New Orleans, African-Americans experienced much more autonomy. In New Orleans, public schools had successfully been integrated until the year 1877 (Woodward, 2001).

The state of Louisiana was one of the first states to adopt Jim Crow Laws. African-American New Orleanians were struggling with accepting the institutionalization of Jim Crow laws, considering the autonomy that blacks had experienced in New Orleans during Reconstruction. Motivated by the unnerving discomfort associated with accepting this marginalized social position perpetuated by these laws, New Orleanians began what has been a long history of the fight for equity across access to resources and opportunities for African-Americans in New Orleans.  

In the year 1890, the New Orleans African-American community was outraged by a new Louisiana law that required that blacks and whites travel in separate cars of the railroad. In 1892, community members (a group of civic-minded African-American males) chose to exercise this outrage by mobilizing and identifying an individual that would refuse to be removed from the white only car (Kauper, 1954). The individual was 30 year old Homer Plessy. Plessy was a 1/8 black male who resembled the appearance of a white male. Plessy was arrested for his refusal to be removed from the car, and he was jailed for his actions. This historical event was known as the Plessy vs. Ferguson case. In this case, Plessy’s lawyer argued that the Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendment. The case moved up to the Supreme Court, and in 1896 it was ruled that segregation in America was constitutional (Kauper, 1954).

The Plessy vs. Ferguson case set the precedent for the separate but equal doctrine. The doctrine upheld that separate facilities for blacks and whites, including public schools, was constitutional as long as those facilities were “equal.”  (Kauper, 1954) This notion of equity across facilities was a fallacy. Black public schools received far less funding than white public schools.

In a 1902 report written to New Orleans Public Schools Superintendent Warren Easton, Assistant Superintendent Nicholas Bauer stated the following:

…to teach the negro is a different problem. His natural ability is that of low character and it is possible to bring him to a certain level beyond which it is impossible to carry him. That point is the fifth grade of our schools (Bauer, 1902)

The statements in the report are reflective of the ideological perspective that blacks are inferior to whites in academics, and that because of this inferiority, whites are responsible for the control of the academic mobility of blacks. Moreover, it asserts that there exists a glass ceiling of capacity to excel academically for blacks, and that this ceiling is the 5th grade. The Assistant Superintendent uses race to justify bias in educating one race over another. If these ideological thoughts were reflective of those governing policies for academic institutions, how could these officials be expected to ensure equity as it relates to quality of education for a race deemed as less than, academically?

In the 1950’s, Thurgood Marshall led the NAACP’s legal efforts to challenge the separate but equal doctrine by asserting that it violated the 14th Ammendment of equal protection. The Supreme Court heard a series of cases and, in 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education, it was ruled that that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional (Patterson, 2001. The Separate but equal doctrine was overturned, and the 14th amendment was used to overturn the doctrine, just as the 14th amendment had been used in the Plessy vs. Ferguson case (Patterson, 2001).

In New Orleans, the desegregation of schools did not occur until 1960, although the separate but equal doctrine had been overturned 6 years prior. The overturning of the doctrine was met with much resistance, and because of this resistance, a U.S. District Court judge had to order the desegregation of the New Orleans public schools, grade by grade (Ogletree, 2004).   The historical event that marked the desegregation of New Orleans schools was, the then 6 year old Ruby Bridges, integrating William Frantz Elementary School.

Occurring at the same time of the desegregation of New Orleans public schools was white flight to the suburbs (Landphair, 2007). As a result of white flight, the racial demographics of New Orleans began to shift and the proportion of the New Orleans African-American population grew from 37% in 1960 to 55% by 1980. By the early 1970’s, African-American children accounted for more than 70% of the New Orleans Public Schools population (Landphair, 2007).  

After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) laid off approximately 3,000 staff and 4,000 teachers. The Louisiana Department of Education took over more than 107 out of the 128 New Orleans Public Schools. The New Orleans public education system transitioned into a predominately all charter system, under the then newly formed Recovery School District.

Eleven years after Act 35 was passed, which allowed the state to takeover Orleans Parish Schools that met the state’s newly created criteria for “failing”, on May 10, 2016, Governor John Bel Edwards signed SB 432 (now Act 91) into law. This legislation codified the reunification of Orleans Parish public schools under the oversight of the Orleans Parish School Board and its Superintendent. Today, New Orleans has an unprecedented percentage of charter schools, positioning the city as having the largest percentage of charter schools in the country. The current New Orleans public education system is comprised primarily of autonomous schools directly run by charter management groups, and the Orleans Parish School Board provides oversight of those schools.

New Orleans has a long-standing history of public school segregation and racial and educational inequalities. Charter schools, operating under the guise of school choice, have not redressed the educational inequalities that were born out of the city’s historical legacy of structural racism and white supremacy.  Sixty-five years post Brown vs. Board of Education, the pervasive and enduring issue of public school segregation in New Orleans persists.

Police Officers in Schools Should Not Be the Ones Dealing With Minor Disciplinary Issues

If you enter almost any large inner-city school in America, you will likely see a police presence. Not because there was a disturbance, but because that is simply where they have been assigned. This is of course in reference to School Resource Officers.

School resource officers or SROs have recently come under a lot of fire. Conversations around police brutality have given way to conversations about interactions between police and students at schools, and there is no shortage of incidents to highlight. The national conversation started in 2015 after the spread of a viral video in which a police officer flipped a student out of her desk after she initially refused to surrender her cell phone to the teacher. Fast forward to today, when surveillance cameras recently caught officers dragging a 16-year-old student down the steps and using a stun gun… again all stemming from a cell-phone.

Such interactions have led people to question whether or not police officers should be in schools. That question is valid especially when you consider the fact that they don’t always actually prevent crime, as was the case when an ineffective school police officer ran and hid during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, as a shooter gunned down students on his watch. However, whether or not schools should have SROs really isn’t the right question. The real question should be around the way they are used:

“Why are school resource officers being used as classroom managers?”  

The United States Department of Justice defines School Resource Officers as “sworn law enforcement officers responsible for safety and crime prevention in schools.” Why are these officers being called every time a student refuses to hand over a cell phone?

Why are we surprised that police officers aren’t equipped to the everyday nuance of minor behavior issues? There is an old quote that says something along the lines of: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail.” This quote sums up the problem with SROs. They in most cases aren’t trained or equipped to handle minor behavior problems because they are supposed to be there specifically to handle the big ones.

You know who is supposed to be trained and equipped to deal with student behavior? Teachers and administrators. And in schools where no school resource officers are present, that is who handles it. My school does not have an SRO.  Like many other schools, we have a ban on cellphones in class. On average I catch about 3 students breaking this rule a day. At least once a week one of them refuses to hand it over. When I child refuses to comply with directions there is a lot of steps I can take. Those interventions do not include calling the police or flipping them out of their desk.

In schools where SROs are present, teachers and admin often feel the pressure to use them. Even in situations that don’t call for it. As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t call the SRO for a situation that you wouldn’t normally call the police:

Drugs? Yes. Big fights? Yes. Gang activity? Yes.

Disrespect? No. Sleeping in class? No. Cell phone refusal? No.

In my 8 years of experience, I have seen incidents in which a school resource officer was probably needed and having the right person in uniform walking around the school could be a net positive. But if schools are going to continue to get the wrong people for the job and use them in the wrong way, then we should probably talk about the use of school resource officers in general. Especially considering how their misuse disproportionately impacts black and brown students given their placement in inner city schools. We should also talk about better training for people who are going to be in schools dealing with children. 

But as of today, school resource officers are here and are trained as officers, and as long as we are using officers in schools then we need to make sure we are using them right… which is sparingly.

Leveling the Playing Field of Early Childhood Education Enrollment

“We need to meet people where they are.” This is a popular refrain but it’s hard to know if its’s always good advice.

Does meeting a marginalized group where they—and their needs— lead to lower expectations or the belief that they are less capable than everybody else?

Or are accommodations an opportunity to ensure greater and more equitable access to resources for community members?

A recent study conducted by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans explores whether or not communication with families through text messaging can improve engagement and promote successful completion of the application process for early childhood education programs.

Each year, there are conversations surrounding the eligibility requirements for education programs and whether or not they provide a “fair” or level playing field for families of limited income and resources, specifically programs described as high-quality and high-performing.  Documentation submission, interviews and assessments are often seen by some as obvious tactics to make it more challenging for families with minimal resources (i.e. transportation, childcare, limited to no PTO benefits to request time off from work, etc.) to participate and reap the benefits of quality education programming to ensure optimal learning opportunities to their children.

For decades now, research has shown us the benefits of early access to education, yet Louisiana has yet to provide universal preschool nor the adequate funding to make affordable, high-quality child care and preschool a reality for families and providers according to the Center for American Progress’ 2018 fact sheet.

Education Research Alliance for New Orleans utilized formal text message reminders and personalized text message reminders to communicate with families regarding their process in the steps to fulfill their application requirements to secure early childhood education programming.  

The study’s results indicated the following statements:

“low-cost text message support can help parents overcome the eligibility verification barrier in the ECE enrollment process.”

Additionally, while no significant differences were noted between the formal and personalized text messages for early childhood education programs,

“Parents who received personalized text messages responded to those messages at a much higher rate (89%) than parents who received formal reminders (11%). The increased text response rate enabled administrators to respond to parents’ questions during the verification process, and provided insights about the key challenges families face in verification.”

Some questions from families focused on understanding the specific steps to verify(required documentation, accurate location to submit documentation, etc.)

“I did it [verified] thanks so much for [t]he reminders,” wrote one applicant, while others told a district staff member that they would look for her at verification events.

It’s no secret that the school admission process has been a source of frustration since the emergence of charter networks and the One App enrollment process, for both administrators and families alike. With more research, like the study conducted by Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, perhaps families and administrators can identify efficient measures to promote collaboration rather than sow divisiveness, ultimately ensuring the well-being and success of the city’s youth through more equitable and inclusive education practices.

Leah Chase, A True New Orleans Icon

On June 1st, New Orleans lost a culinary Icon. If you’re from New Orleans, I’m sure you’ve celebrated a birthday, graduation or had a night out at Dooky Chase. Because visiting the restaurant, you never know who you might run into. Leah Chase has served everyone from civil rights workers, local politicians, actors and even presidents.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. liked barbecued ribs, and James Baldwin preferred gumbo. The singer Sarah Vaughan ordered stuffed crab to go, and Nat King Cole always wanted a four-minute egg.

Read more here

Why I’m Unapologetically Pro School Choice

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I am unapologetically pro school choice. Right now parents’ right to choose the best school for their children is under attack. All parents, especially parents of color and parents living in poverty, need to pay attention to the foolishness taking place in California and the education plan shared by presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders.

In California, legislators want to limit charter schools. The 74 recently reported, “Amid competing protests in Sacramento on Wednesday, the California Assembly narrowly passed legislation that would give local school districts sole authority to approve new charter schools.”  Why is this legislation even needed when parents are willingly sending their children to charters? Some of the parents sending their children to these schools have reported their children are being served better than they were in their traditional public school. We need to make sure this legislation does not spread across our country or more children of color will be in danger of not receiving a good education.

This battle is not only playing out in California, but it is also part of the presidential campaign.  According to an article by the NY Times:

When Senator Bernie Sanders delivered a wide-ranging speech on education Saturday, he became the first major Democratic candidate to propose a detailed plan to racially integrate schools, calling for $1 billion in funding to support local integration efforts, such as magnet schools and busing…But for some, those ideas were overshadowed by more divisive elements of the proposal: Mr. Sanders’s plan to freeze federal funding for all new charter schools.

How many times do we have to repeat the same plan? We want to bus black kids again. Let me tell you about how that turned out in Indianapolis. There are eleven school districts within the boundaries of Indianapolis. For 35 years, black students where bused from some of the other school districts into Indianapolis Public Schools. This desegregation busing did not end until 2016, yes 2016.

My husband and I were part of desegregation busing in Indy. Yes, we received a good education being bused from the boundaries of Indianapolis Public Schools into the MSD of Lawrence Township, but at what cost? The busing destroyed our neighborhood where my parents and his mother live today. It is a food desert and a lot of families moved out of IPS and into Lawrence Township.

When we attended Lawrence Township, they split u[ the black kids. If there were five fifth graders being bused to the same elementary school more than likely we were each placed in a separate class. We got lucky if there were two black kids in a class.  Only part of our neighboorhood was bused to Lawrence. The next street over, students went to IPS. That line drawn by legislation drew a line between neighbors and friends. As a black child, I was isolated from other students who looked like me during the school day, and when I returned home, some of the kids didn’t want to be associated with those kids that were bused to another school.

Instead of going to a school within walking distance, we rode the bus for 30 minutes. Think about how this affects parents. My parents made it to school events, but some of the other black parents didn’t. I remember my mom later told me the school principal asked her, a faithful school volunteer, how she could get more black parents involved. My mom simply told her, “They don’t want to drive that far to the school.”

When people left our neighborhood and moved into Lawrence, guess what the white people did? They moved away.  When my niece and nephew were attending school in Lawrence Township a couple of years ago before they moved to Georgia, it was clear the demographics had changed. Most of the students were of color. So no, I am not interested in any more busing schemes. You cannot force people to integrate. White people who can move away will, and you will be back where you started.

That’s why I don’t hop on the integration bandwagon. My children attend a nice integrated school in Washington Township that I love, but if they attended a mostly black school that achieved the same results, I would support that too. Make no mistake, my sons’ school is not achieving greatness because there are just enough white students at the school to make it nicely integrated. It is a good school because of the leadership, teachers, instruction, and parent involvement. This can happen at any school regardless of the demographics.

It is a lie that we didn’t have good black schools before the Brown decision.  We had terrible buildings and a lack of resources. Chris Stewart, CEO of Education Post, elaborated on the unintended consequences of the Brown Vs. The Board of Education decision:

I believe black folks should resist integration proposals as the sole or primary educational interventions necessary for our children to succeed. We lost so much by placing our faith in the social engineering of schools that robbed us of black educational capital and infrastructure. Our teachers fired. Our principals demoted. Our children handed over wholesale to an education establishment that had no reason to love them.

We lost our black teachers and administrators. Countless research studies have shown that black students benefit from black teachers and black teachers help black students and nonblack students have better academic outcomes. I think of the white teachers I know who parents and even grandparents were teachers. We don’t have much of that in the black community anymore. Brown is one reason why.

If traditional public schools were serving children of color well, charter schools would not be needed. I know too many black kids who are successful today because their parents pulled them out of their failing traditional public school and enrolled them into public charter school. Yes, some charters schools are bad, but until all traditional public schools are great, don’t tell parents that we don’t need choices.

Sorry, We can’t let you in.

The day is finally here. Your baby is graduating from high school! You are so excited to see him walk across the stage to get his diploma you rush out of the house and realize you forgot your car keys! Now you’re running behind. It’s ok because you know you will get there in time to see your graduate. At least, thats what you thought. You arrive at the venue and the doors are locked! Now I know you’re reading this saying, there is no way in the world that will happen. Unfortunately for some Ben Franklin parents, this actually happened.

“They had the doors locked and they said they weren’t letting anybody in because they were full to capacity,” Walker said. “Everybody was outside banging on the doors!”

Read more here

Even Within Integrated Schools Black and Brown Students Are Left Behind

At every step of the civil rights movement, there were specific goals. Usually something high leverage that would have a huge impact. At first it was voting and the repeal of some Jim-crow laws but then the focused shifted to segregation. The theory being that if they could just integrate the schools, educational outcomes would improve. Spoiler alert: They were successful in getting integration legislation through, but almost 65 years after Brown vs Board of Education, educational inequity remains a problem… even in the schools that are integrated.

Integration was a landmark win for the civil rights movement, and a much-needed reform for education, but it was not the silver bullet people hoped it would be nor the silver bullet some people still pretend that it is.

Within diverse schools across America, black and brown students are falling behind. In many of these schools, when you look at a composite of the student body or a yearbook, the school looks like the vision that civil rights activist fought for. However, when you dig into the data you see that black and white students may be sharing the same buildings, but not the same educational outcomes. Ironically, we have traded segregation between schools for segregation within schools. 

One study of an affluent but diverse school district found that white students were 3.9 grades ahead of the national average and black students were 0.6 grades below. These findings were corroborated by the school’s own data.

But you don’t have to find some academic study to see the difference in achievement between white students and students of color. The data is publicly available and typically tracked by most of the major school school-rating websites. For example, rated the high school in my district an 8/10 overall which is pretty good. But it was rated a 2/10 in the equity portion of the rating due mainly to the achievement of low-income, Black and Hispanic students. If you explore that site long enough you will see that trend continue across many “diverse” and “high achieving” schools all over the country.

This isn’t to say that integration is bad or didn’t improve outcomes, but it wasn’t the panacea that people thought it would be and we need to address the actual issues facing students of color instead of moving heaven and earth just to sit them next to someone white as if proximity alone closes the achievement gap. You couldn’t make every school diverse even if you wanted to, and we have to believe as a country that black and Hispanic children can still learn even if they aren’t in the presence of affluent white students.


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By Gwen Samuel

I am in a self-reflective mood this evening in need of God’s wisdom and guidance. Why? I’m in deep thought about parent rights, particularly Black parents and the erosion of their Constitutional rights and of Black children and the total dismissal of their educational rights and social emotional well-being.  

We, as Black parents are crying entirely too many tears of desperation in our daily struggle for educational justice. 

In addition, a dear friend of mine just passed away a few days ago, Lorraine Farrar-James from Bridgeport, Connecticut.  She was a black mom and social justice activist who was taught by and walked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I dedicate this blog to her lifelong fight for educational justice and the legacy she leaves behind. She knew that as a Black mother, her destiny was tied to all Black parents and children in their fierce fight for educational justice.

Parents- It’s Time to Move From the Sidelines into the Game of Education

We, as parents, find ourselves increasingly playing defense in the fight for our children’s future. It is time to go on the offense and change the rules of the status quo’s educational game that harms our children EVERY. SINGLE. DAY!     

Just last week, I attended a Black educators event and the statement “Black kids are the New Cotton” was made among the closing remarks.

I remember taking in a sharp breath, looking around the room for facial expressions to see if I misunderstood the statement.

The participants’ deer in headlights eyes affirmed I heard what I heard and the daily fears of this Black mom for the education, social and emotional wellbeing of our black children was validated. 

To be brutally honest, I felt a strong wave of hopelessness and helplessness at that very moment because hearing black children being referred to as cotton- a commodity for sale – through public education funding brought memories and stories of my grandparents and great grandparents who lived on a plantation as property to be bought and sold because the law said they were not human beings.

I had to ask myself, how far would the traditional public schools, that are totally run by teacher unions, go to maintain the status quo of keeping an unjust public education system unchanged and unchallenged?  

Nobody wants to say it, but teacher unions are not supposed to have total control of an entire educational system that has multiple stakeholders and interests, the most important constituent being the student! 

Charter founder Margaret Fortune doesn’t mince words on the subject: 

“We have to be in a situation as Black families to hold everybody accountable for the performance of Black kids. We can’t get into a situation where Black kids are the new cotton and we’re harvesting them for their public-school funding.”

Fortune is upfront about her fundamental belief that California’s traditional public schools have a failing record when it comes to Black kids. And she sees the California Teachers’ Associations constant fight against the existence of charter schools to really mean “we can’t teach Black kids and we will not let anybody else.” Please, say it again for the people in the back, my sister.

The Constitution Matters

The constitution of this country guarantees liberty and justice for all — and that must include educational freedom. We as parents have the right to raise our children according to our values, culture, and beliefs. 

As parents, we need to move from being just empowered to in power thus choosing the best educational option for our children. We deserve and demand the right to prioritize the safety and academic success of our children. Our babies deserve their God given right to be free to learn, thrive and grow. Our children deserve to be free from abuse and educational neglect from a public educational system that deems them inferior and not worth educating or respecting.   

In recent years, I have noticed changes in law and public policy that trample on parental choice in public education. These attacks on our freedom often come in the form of moratoriums  and caps being placed on high quality public charter schools—schools that are in high demand and serve majority Black and Hispanic children in many urban communities. 

Just this week marginalized communities from across the country felt the sting of anti- parental choice from the House Democrats when they released their spending bill—it includes a recommended $40 million reduction from the federal charter school grant program but an $18 million increase to magnet schools. Unlike most charters, most magnet schools are run by very traditional thinking school districts that value their teacher’s union and their multimillion-dollar perks more than their Black and Hispanic children and their right to a safe and just education. How do I know? I got receipts! 

In my state of Connecticut, magnet schools use racial quotas that deny access to Hartford’s eligible Black and Hispanic children on wait lists though they live in the neighborhoods of these magnets. Someone explain to me how is that putting children first? 

The Urgent Call To Action Because Our Kids Can’t Wait  

To all Black parents, we are faced with these questions:

  1. To what lengths will the teacher unions and the status quo, that allows them this monopoly over public education, go to maintain an educational system that views our Black children more like a commodity for sale than little human beings in need of a safe and quality education?
  2. How far are we, as parents, willing to go to protect our right as parents to choose the best educational option for our children thus ensuring their safety and academicsuccess? 

Let us be very clear, we are in a public education war. It is a teacher union-controlled monopoly over public education versus the constitutional rights of other people’s children in public education.

The first step is for us as parents to connect with allies, regardless of their political party, who will be honest with us about how overwhelming the fight can be against status quo protectors that work around the clock to keep our children trapped in public schools that they would never allow their own children to attend. But, let us not be fooled, just because someone says they work in parent engagement, does not mean that they are committed to informing parents of the very real threat to parent choice in public education. 

We have fought too long and too hard to expand our educational choices and we will fight just as hard to protect them.

The days of Black folk picking cotton are over and the days of picking on our Black children are done.  You do not have to like Black parents, but you must respect our parental choice in education!