Students will return to KIPP Renaissance High School on Monday after security concerns led to an unexpected two-day shutdown immediately before Mardi Gras break.

On Feb. 11, 450 ninth- through 12-grade students were sent home after some Renaissance students refused to cooperate with a new school security policy, KIPP spokesman Jonathan Bertsch said.  Some students objected to the procedures that included metal detectors, bag searches and requests from security guards to pull clothing or waistbands away from their body.

“It was a situation where there were a number of students that were not entering the school,” Bertsch said. “I think having students that are out and not following the procedures created an unsafe situation.”

Bertsch said the administration decided to dismiss school early that day and cancel all together on Thursday, the last scheduled day before Mardi Gras break. Despite the ‘unsafe situation’ the New Orleans Police Department was not called.

The school, housed in the former Sarah T. Reed High School in eastern New Orleans, did open for parents and students to come in and discuss the situation and new policy.

The extent of the new procedures aren’t clear.

A letter went home with students on a Friday, Feb. 6, explaining there would be changes to the entrance policy for the high school beginning the following Monday. The one-page letter said anyone entering the school would be subject to metal detection and bag searches.

Asked recently, KIPP officials could not provide a copy of the new policy. They did provide a copy of the cell phone policy distributed at the beginning of the school year, which requires all cell phones be turned in at the beginning of each day.

The letter to parents also stated that the new entrance policy would help with cell phone collection because any “contraband” found in bags would be confiscated.

Bertsch said the change was spurred by requests from parents: “Throughout the last several months we’ve had requests from families, from parents that we implement a different sort of school entry procedure.”

“Ninety-six percent of families that we spoke to were in favor of the new policy,” Bertsch said.

Bertsch said security personnel and KIPP staff members performed the searches during the beginning of last week.

“In some cases, a student may be asked to pull clothing away from their body perpendicularly which would cause a banned item to fall if it were concealed behind a belt, for example,” Bertsch said. “In no cases are students asked to lift clothing to allow for a visual inspection.”

Monday will begin with an hour-long session for students to discuss what happened and why the new policy has been implemented, Bertsch said.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...