Two community groups that recently charged the state’s Recovery School District with discrimination against African-American students called Thursday for state education chief John White’s resignation.

An open letter penned by the groups — the Coalition for Community Schools New Orleans and Conscious Concerned Citizens Controlling Community Changes (also known as “C-6”) — condemns White for not taking their concerns seriously.

The state superintendent of education told Times-Picayune in May that the civil rights complaint the groups filed against the state and RSD was factually “a joke” and a “political farce” prompted by two national teacher unions trying to get a toehold in the area.

The complaint decries school closures and alleges that the RSD, which White directed before becoming state superintendent of education, disproportionately closes low-performing schools with higher black populations. It also criticized the RSD, claiming — erroneously as it turns out — that the district let the city’s highest-performing schools bail out of the citywide enrollment process, OneApp, and continue with admissions requirements that complainants say shut out black students.

“As Superintendent, you should take seriously and investigate any charge of discrimination that harms students of color in Louisiana,” the letter to White reads.

“Your comments are reprehensible and prove you are not fit to be Louisiana State Superintendent of Education.”

[module align=”left” width=”half” type=”pull-quote”]Royal argued Wednesday that there has been academic growth at some traditional schools slated for closure.[/module]The letter is signed by Frank J. Buckley, a John McDonogh High School alumnus, and parent advocate Karran Harper Royal, both long-time and highly vocal critics of the RSD.
Though not mentioned in the complaint, John McDonogh, a charter school plagued by low performance and crumbling facilities, is one of six schools that were closed as the current school year ended. The five others, which were named in the complaint,  are traditionally administered non-charter schools: Sarah T. Reed High School, A.P. Tureaud Elementary, Benjamin Banneker Elementary, Walter L. Cohen High School and G.W. Carver High School.

White’s office responded Wednesday with this statement:

“We take the success of students as seriously as any responsibility we have in the education of our kids….We take seriously any group seriously committed to that mission. The group writing this letter is part of a national campaign that wants more to do with politics than with the success of children.”

In previously faulting the complaint for inaccuracies, White noted that the high-performing charter schools that don’t use the OneApp form are governed by the Orleans Parish School Board, not the state-run RSD. In 2012, OPSB agreed to let schools participate after current charter agreements expire. That means three of the city’s highest-performing schools are exempt from OneApp until 2021.

Royal and Jadine Johnson of Advancement Project, the national civil rights organization that is partnering with Royal’s group, said Wednesday that the complaint calls out the state, rather than the OPSB, because the state is ultimately responsible for preventing discrimination at schools in New Orleans.

Royal and Buckley’s claim that the RSD shutters low-performing schools with a large proportion of black students is linked to their contention that stagnant performance has been tolerated among charter schools, while underperforming traditional schools have been closed.

But there are problems with that claim. For example: The complainants say Gentilly Terrace Charter School is stagnant academically, and thus, should have been shut down. But the school’s performance score rose by about 10 points from 2011-12 to 2012-13, under the state’s 200-point system. International High School of New Orleans, also mentioned in the complaint as a low-performing charter, went up by 18 points in the same period.

State rules periodically require charters to meet performance targets; if a school is doing so, despite a low grade, it is allowed to continue operating.

RSD officials have justified traditional school closures by arranging for the students to be absorbed into higher-performing schools. But Royal argued Wednesday that there has been academic growth at some traditional schools slated for closure.

The continual churn of closed and chartered schools has proved disruptive for families, as Buckley and Royal allege. They are also correct in asserting that the academically adept OPSB schools not using the OneApp are noticeably whiter: Lusher Charter School is slightly more than half white while Benjamin Franklin High School is slightly less than half white. At Audubon Charter School and Edward Hynes Charter School, white students make up about 37 and 44 percent of the enrollments, respectively.

The A-rated Lake Forest Elementary Charter School is the outlier: only about 1 percent of its students are white.

Overall, the city’s schools are 7 percent white, according to an analysis by Tulane University’s Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives.

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...