Shortly after the Collegiate Academies board voted to keep Sci Academy to under Recovery School District oversight for another year, a group of community activists and Carver Collegiate and Carver Preparatory academies parents and students walked in from a protest of the schools’ disciplinary practices and academic programs.
Many of the concerns are outlined in a letter to the administration. The school responded with its own open letter, outlining a plan to address the issues raised by students.
“Our approach to discipline is a key component in the success of our academic program. It is through a culture of high expectations and profound care and love for our scholars that we implement a system where rewards and praise occur far more frequently than penalties,” Collegiate Academies CEO Ben Marcovitz wrote in the letter.
Summer Duskin, a ninth-grader at George Washington Carver Collegiate Academy, spoke on behalf of the students. “The academics, how they talk to us, we don’t have textbooks so we get information from the Internet. If we walk outside lines [on the hallway floor] we get a demerit. Eight demerits equals a detention, and when you get enough detentions you get a suspension that you can’t come to school on Monday.
“There’s no respect for the students — they talk to us like fifth-graders and we’re ninth-graders — like we’re animals, but we’re kids.”
Collegiate Academies President Morgan Carter Ripski told The Lens that school officials have a face-to-face meeting with all parents at the beginning of each school year to review and sign off on the school’s policies and procedures, including disciplinary policies. Student handbooks for Sci Academy, George Washington Carver Collegiate Academy and George Washington Carver Preparatory Academy are all posted online.
Duskin also said that Carver Collegiate’s teaching staff isn’t diverse. “The teachers don’t know where we come from,” she said. Ripski said that at the beginning of this school year, 27 percent of teachers were minorities, including 15 percent who are African-American.
The 30 or so protesters arrived after the board ended its meeting, which lasted just 20 minutes, and some board members had left already. That caused some of them to express frustration about not having a place to air their concerns.
The board, however, had anticipated their arrival and included a “general public comment period” on the agenda.
The board does limit the number of public comments during any single session to three. State law allows public bodies to establish rules limiting comments, for instance restricting them to items on the agenda or limiting their length.
Only three people present at the meeting filled out cards to speak during the general comment period: an alumnus, a current student of Sci Academy and an attorney from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“I’m here to discuss the issue of the protest. No school can operate without order. Without order there is no learning going on,” Nicholas James, a senior at Sci Academy, said.
Mariah Banks, a 2013 graduate of Sci Academy, agreed. “All of this is unnecessary. I’m a college student! Sci brought me from all F’s. When I got there, I was being childish … I wouldn’t have gone to college without Sci.”
Jennifer Copeland, representing the Southern Poverty Law Center, asked only that the schools’ administration respond to the center’s letter. “We don’t want to dictate the culture at your school or the curriculum. You have the highest disciplinary rates in the city, and we see little pedagogical value in that,” she said.
The three Collegiate schools had the city’s highest suspension rates in the 2012-13 academic year. A full 69 percent of Carver Collegiate’s student body was sent home at least once. Carver Prep suspended 61 percent of its student body. Sci Academy sent home 58 percent, a 9-point increase from the year before.
Addressing issues raised in the letter, Ripski said that all suspensions are recorded and include the reason for the discipline. “Scholars receive ‘scholar slips’ each morning that detail the number of merits and demerits they received the prior day and why they received them. This sheet also notes any detention hours the scholar has earned,” she said in an email. “Suspensions are logged immediately and information about the suspension is shared via phone or paperwork with a parent or guardian.”
Ripski said no additional students have left the school since the protest, leaving the total at three students who have gone on to join the New Orleans Liberation Academy, a home-school system.