Of the city’s 86 public schools, 11 received an F from the state in 2018 annual ratings. Those ratings are based largely on state standardized tests. Of the F schools, four are working under the school improvement plans, and three are closing this summer. The rest are alternative schools — often used for students who have been expelled from other schools — which are given more flexibility on state grades.

The four schools targeted for improvement, rather than immediate closure, are Robert Mussa Moton Charter School, Joseph A. Craig Charter School, James M. Singleton Charter School and Landry-Walker High School. Like most New Orleans schools, all four are charters. At the end of this school year, New Orleans is set to become the first major city without traditional, district-run schools.

If they don’t improve their letter grade, the schools — which had a combined enrollment of 2,148 students as of October — will automatically face closure proceedings next year. Schools that get an F two years in a row go through the district’s charter revocation process.

Behind The Lens episode 22: ‘There’s a civil war going on out there’

On March 1st — the Friday before Mardi Gras — the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality held a hearing to take public comments on a big change in state regulations.

DEQ’s Risk Evaluation/Corrective Action Program, or RECAP, has been around since 1998. This regulation establishes “minimum remediation standards for present and past uncontrolled constituent releases.” Put simply: When an oil & gas company or similar industry leaves a mess at a work site in Louisiana, RECAP rules dictate what they have to cleanup.

Now, DEQ says it wants to revise RECAP standards, possibly reducing the costs of remediating sites across the state. But opponents of the move warn it would allow polluters to leave more toxic waste at sites across the state.

We have a couple of excerpts from last week’s testimony. And a major update. Late Friday, one week after the hearing, The Lens received word that DEQ would put the RECAP revision process on hold. Spokesman Greg Langley tells us the department wants to do more public outreach on potential revisions before pushing forward.

And editor Charles Maldonado recaps a big development last week in criminal justice. A federal civil rights lawsuit against Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and several of his prosecutors will be allowed to go forward.

Opinion: A young conservative makes the case for ending Louisiana’s death penalty

Columnist Marcus Maldonado, who says he grew up in a “staunchly conservative, pro-life, Southern Baptist household,” explains how his views on the death penalty have evolved:

“Depriving innocent people of their life and liberty should never happen in America, and yet I have learned that it has been happening with shocking frequency. Nationwide, 164 people have been freed from death rows since 1973 because they were wrongfully convicted; 11 of them were facing death right here in Louisiana. In fact, we have the dismal distinction of making the most mistakes (per capita) of any state in the nation when it comes to sending innocent people to death row.

“Conservatives have always been in favor of small government, a government that protects life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that upholds the promise of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Any government program that involves taking away someone’s life and freedom deserves the closest scrutiny.

“Upon such examination, I’ve learned that the death penalty does not improve public safety. States with the death penalty have higher murder rates than those that do not, and Louisiana is the most prominent example. Each year, from 1989 through 2017, our state had the highest per capita murder rate in the U.S. (an average of 12.4 murders per 100,000 people). That’s 29 years in a row.

“While the death penalty does little to enhance public safety in our state, its high cost does have a significant fiscal impact on Louisiana taxpayers. According to a national study, it costs $1 million more to house and care for a death row inmate over his or her lifetime, compared to an inmate in the general prison population. That’s just one way in which the death penalty is more expensive.”

Opinion: By what right does Take ‘Em Down NOLA get to tell Zulu what to do?

Op-ed columnist Lydia Nichols:

“In an Advocate article, Take ‘Em Down NOLA lead organizer Malcolm Suber states that if Zulu doesn’t stop using black paint, Take ‘Em Down NOLA will pressure the City Council to stop giving them permits to parade. Given how obviously the protest tactic undermines Take ‘Em Down NOLA’s ability to build a base of power among Zulu  members, I have to wonder: is a City Council-sponsored Zulu ban the actual goal?

“See, when they levy a threat to have Zulu canceled for non-compliance, this isn’t just about aesthetics.

“That we still choose to gather in the streets en masse — not to spite whitey, but because we just want to be around each other — cannot be explained with logic. It’s a testament to the strength of community and our culture, something older and deeper than our ‘resilience.’

“White supremacists have employed various tactics to deprive us of the nourishment we have always found in community. Code Noir curfews and, not coincidentally, the refusal to grant permits to social aid and pleasure clubs for second lines comes to mind. And yet, we persist in honoring that which has granted us survival — our relationships with each other.”

Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado is the editor of The Lens. He previously worked as The Lens' government accountability reporter, covering local politics and criminal justice. Prior to joining The Lens, he worked for Gambit, New Orleans alternative newsweekly, where he covered city hall, criminal justice and public health. Before moving to New Orleans, he covered state and local government for weekly papers in Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn.