Anna Brimmer didn’t know she’d have to pay when her son misbehaved at school.

McDonogh 32 Literacy Academy officials made Brimmer and her seventh-grader report for detention at a nearby high school after he cursed out an adult last November. Before he began serving a detention of about four hours, they made her pay $25.

She’s not defending her son: “When he’s wrong, I give him wrong. When he’s right, I give him that,” she said.

“But I’ve never heard of a $25 fee for a Saturday detention.”

Brimmer said she was told by staff that her son would be suspended if she didn’t pay.

McDonogh 32 isn’t the only school charging parents for their children’s detentions. It’s one of six schools in the Algiers Charter School Association that do so. Though Brimmer was unaware of it, the policy is spelled out in a student handbook available on the charter management organization’s website.

The fees pay for staff at the detention center, called the Developing & Educating Alternative Learners — or DEAL — center, association spokeswoman Kesana Durand said. At the center, students receive individualized counseling from an on-site social worker. They are asked to reflect on their problems and find solutions.

The fees strike Brimmer and others as excessive. Ninety-four percent of Algiers association students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, an indicator of poverty.

Durand agreed that the money and the four hours spent on Saturday detention could inspire more parents to keep their children in line with a school’s discipline code.

But the parents shouldn’t view the fees as punishment, she said.

“We see ours as an investment for the parents, because they are getting these crucial services,” she said.

Though many public schools charge fees of other kinds, typically for after-school enrichment programs or extracurricular activities, few New Orleans public schools appear to tie fees to detentions. Representatives from four of the city’s largest charter management organizations said they don’t charge parents for detentions. The four organizations – ReNEW Schools, FirstLine Schools, New Orleans College Preparatory Academies and New Beginnings — run 19 schools.

KIPP, the city’s second-largest charter organization, was out this week on spring break, but its student code of conduct makes no mention of fees for detentions. And none of the five schools run directly by the Orleans Parish School Board charge for Saturday detentions, Stan Smith, the interim superintendent, said.

Some other jurisdications do charge fees, however, among them Jefferson Parish Public Schools. Jefferson targets students who get into school fights. Their families are charged  $75 for a four-hour conflict-resolution session, part of the parish’s Violence Prevention Program.

Saturday detention, with or without fees, is seen as an alternative to harsher out-of-school suspensions, which critics say hurt children academically.

In crafting its policy, the Algiers association looked to Jefferson and other jurisdictions as a model, Durand said.

If a parent doesn’t want to pay the $25, “the other option would be a suspension,” Durand said.

The fees strike Brimmer and others as excessive. Ninety-four percent of Algiers association students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, an indicator of poverty. The percentage of poor kids at McDonogh 32 is closer to 100 percent.

The Algiers association’s handbook, however, advises families that the fine may be waived if a family can’t pay it.

It’s not yet clear whether the detention-and-fine approach will help lower suspension rates; the DEAL center is in its first year.

Last year, L.B. Landry High School had a 28 percent suspension rate, the highest in the association and one of the highest in the city. Landry was then run directly by the Recovery School District, but the school merged last fall with the Algiers association’s O. Perry Walker High School.

The other schools in the association suspended fewer kids last year even without the center as an alternative – at a rate of less than 1 percent per school.

Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her...