International High School of New Orleans is fighting its teachers’ recent vote to unionize by appealing the National Labor Relations Board ruling that gave the union the authority to hold an election at the school.

The United Teachers of New Orleans, an affiliate of American Federation of Teachers, petitioned the labor board for union elections on behalf of teachers groups at both International High and Lusher Charter School. In separate cases, the regional director found each charter to be a private nonprofit employer, and ruled union elections could move forward last month.

Both schools say they are government bodies, and therefore legally exempt from the labor board’s jurisdiction.

On May 27, International High employees voted 26-18 in favor of union representation. The week prior, Lusher’s teachers voted against unionizing, but a smaller group of paraprofessionals voted in favor of union representation. Lusher filed an appeal on May 24.

The charters contend they were created because of state law and are therefore political subdivisions of the state. Both are run by nonprofit boards that incorporated independently before applying for the charter contracts that gives them the ability to operate public schools.

The two charters could receive different consideration in the review process because they are different types of charter schools.

Lusher is a Type 3, granted and overseen by the Orleans Parish School Board. In education parlance, Lusher is not its own “local education agency.” The School Board serves that role for Lusher. International High is a Type 2 charter school. Its board operates under a contract issued directly by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the school acts as its own local education agency.

That status affects the school’s ability to receive federal grants. For example, International High can directly receive federal Title I funding, for children from low-income families. Lusher’s Title I funding would flow through the School Board. In fact, the status as a local education agency was considered so important to most charter operators that the state school board created a new type of charters, Type 3B. Those are charters that transfer from state control back to the oversight of a local school board but maintain their independent agency status.

In his filing, International High School’s attorney Brooke Duncan also argues International High is a political subdivision because it follows public-meeting and public-records laws, and its employees and board members are subject to Louisiana’s Ethics Code.

Even if the labor board still finds International High School to be a private nonprofit, Duncan asks for the board’s discretion. He cites a case in which the federal agency declined to assert jurisdiction over Temple University, because the private university was a “quasi-public higher educational institution.”

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...