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Concerned about personnel issues, protesters mass at closed board meeting

Disgruntled parents and teachers are among those who gathered outside a closed meeting of the Algiers Charter School Association. photo: Kelsey Foster

As the Algiers Charter School Association board met behind closed doors Thursday night, a crowd of parents, teachers, and students gathered to protest controversial staffing changes.

Some in the crowd at the school association’s central office were  protesting the fate of O. Perry Walker principal Mary Laurie, who faces  transfer to the failing Algiers Technical Academy. Others objected to the prospect of beginning the school year at Walker without an assigned principal and said they also fear another round of firings. The universal sentiment seemed to be frustration with the board for allegedly poor communication and lack of respect for the public.

“They’re not letting us be heard. We’re not being heard. We’re not being respected,” O. Perry Walker teacher Zenetta Smith said.

The crowd filled the tiny office while the board called the roll and quickly retreating into an executive session from which the public was excluded. Jaime Collins, a lawyer for the board, told the crowd that their concerns about staffing would not be under discussion that evening.

The board’s public meeting scheduled for July 3 was cancelled. Since then, the community has been seeking opportunities to  voice its concerns.

“They cannot hold executive session to avoid the public,” Willie Zanders, an attorney for the parents group said.

“I don’t think they want us to know the full story about the personnel issues,” said  Kady Amundson-Cincy, a teacher at O. Perry Walker. “It doesn’t add up. None of this makes sense. School is starting in a matter of days.”

“My concern? This is plain disrespect,” said O. Perry Walker teacher Darnell Thomas.

“They say they want parents involved. But they’re in there, and we’re out here. It seems like there’s some real shadiness going on,” said Sandradee Gray, parent of a fourth-grader at Martin Behrman Elementary.

According to an opinion from the state attorney general’s office, there is no topic a board is required to hear in executive session, but such sessions may be used to discuss, among other topics, litigation and personnel issues that might jeopardize an employee’s right to privacy.

Given the need for privacy, some in the crowd questioned the board’s right to invite Andre Perry, a Loyola University professor, to their meeting. Perry said he was advising the board on academic issues.

In a separate opinion, the state attorney general’s office has said that, “although persons who are not members of a public body have no right to participate in an executive session, … a public body can permit individuals to attend whose presence is deemed necessary by that public body.”

Concerned parents and teachers said they would continue to meet and discuss school issues while waiting for the board to schedule an official public meeting.

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