The Women's Health Care Center in New Orleans, one of the remaining three abortion clinics in Louisiana. Credit: Michael Isaac Stein / The Lens

Orleans schools superintendent calls for criminal investigation into Kennedy High School, announces citywide audit of high school student records

Orleans Parish schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. on Thursday blasted John F. Kennedy High School and the New Beginnings Schools Foundation, the nonprofit that runs Kennedy, amid a grade-fixing scandal and investigations that have rocked students at the Gentilly high school. Lewis called for a criminal investigation into the school and said that the district will conduct a student record audit of every Orleans Parish school district high school.

“First and foremost, on behalf of the district, I would like to apologize,” Lewis said, as he addressed Orleans Parish School Board members and the public at the board’s monthly meeting Thursday evening.

Lewis’ remarks came a week after it was revealed that nearly half of the students in the school’s 2019 graduating class were not eligible for graduation due in part to staff “malfeasance,” New Beginnings board president Raphael Gang told The Lens last week. The announcement came more than a month after the school’s May 17 graduation ceremony.

“Due to the careless and reckless actions of the adults you trusted at JFK, you should be celebrating your senior graduation this month, but instead, you have been forced to question the certainty of your future,” he said, calling the incident “shameful and intolerable.”

Louisiana’s four other potential abortion restrictions that were eclipsed by the ‘six-week ban’

Louisiana made national headlines earlier this year when the state legislature passed two bills that could limit women’s right to access an abortion. The first would ban abortion after a doctor detects fetal cardiac activity, which happens as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The second sets up a ballot initiative that, if approved by Louisiana voters, would amend the state’s constitution to explicitly exempt abortion as a right guaranteed by the state.

Under a provision written into the heartbeat bill, the ban won’t go into effect unless a similar law passed in Mississippi — which is facing a legal challenge — is upheld in federal appeals court. The constitutional amendment still has to pass a statewide vote in November 2020.

But there were other abortion-related bills passed during this year’s legislative session that could have a more immediate impact on Louisiana women seeking abortions.

One of them would effectively limit where women could get medication abortions to the state’s three remaining abortion clinics.

City revokes STR permit for house that neighbor rented to prove it was operating illegally

A city hearing officer on Wednesday revoked the short-term rental permit from a house in the St. Claude neighborhood, issuing a $2,500 fine and demanding the owner provide confirmation that all pending bookings have been cancelled within 48 hours or face $500 daily fines.

The ruling came as a relief to Ada Phleger, who lives on the same block. As The Lens reported last week, Phleger discovered earlier this year that the house’s permit appeared to have been issued improperly and sent her findings to the city’s Department of Safety and Permits in an attempt to get it revoked.

Phleger eventually went so far as to rent out the Airbnb herself — with her mother and grandmother who were visiting town — to prove that the homeowner, Julie Groth, had misled the city on her permit application.

“I feel very heard right now,” Phleger said at the hearing. “While the whole time I was being told I was crazy.”

Einstein charter network failed to give students required state social studies exam

Einstein Charter Schools failed to give state-required social studies exam to its middle school students this spring, an error that will negatively affect the charter schools’ state performance scores, according to a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Education.

“Einstein failed to administer the social studies assessment to 534 students in grades 5-8 this spring,” Louisiana Department of Education spokeswoman Sydni Dunn wrote in an email. “It was the only instance, statewide, of a site not administering an entire assessment to an entire grade.”

As a result, the Orleans Parish school district issued its most severe warning to the four-school charter network on Wednesday, after confirming the problem with Einstein administrators earlier this week.

Cohen High prepares for move to Harney, now ‘swing-space’

Walter L. Cohen College Prep staff and students will be one step closer to a brand new high school when they move out of their building at the end of this month, clearing the way for a new school to rise.

Their home for the next two to three years will be the recently shuttered Edgar Harney elementary school. Meanwhile, the Recovery School District will construct a $32 million school at Cohen’s current site on the 3500 block of Dryades. Cohen is now under local oversight through the Orleans Parish School Board, but the construction project is part of a $2 billion school facilities plan managed by the OPSB and the state-run RSD.

Opinion: Freshwater diversions are killing the ‘canary in the coal mine’

Capt. George Ricks discusses freshwater’s effects on our saltwater creatures:

“A year ago this past February, Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority went to great lengths to achieve a waiver to by-pass the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a federal law that protects dolphins and other marine mammals from harm or harassment. Why did they feel this was necessary?

Bottlenose dolphin are basically saltwater creatures that inhabit Mississippi Sound and the coastal waters of southeast Louisiana. Extremely territorial creatures, they are born, live, and die in a core area typically less than 20 miles square, depending on the abundance of food sources. Because they are saltwater creatures, their skin cannot tolerate prolonged exposure to fresh water. They develop lesions, bacteria sets into these lesions, infection follows, and these beautiful creatures die. They are very intelligent mammals, but because of their territoriality they are reluctant to leave home waters.”

Proposed legal judgment would void City Council votes on Entergy plant, but lawyers for the city say final vote should stand

proposed judgment released Thursday in a lawsuit against the New Orleans City Council would void the council’s two 2018 votes approving Entergy New Orleans’ power plant in eastern New Orleans. But attorneys for the city say that one of them — the final one — should stand.

On June 14, Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Piper Griffin ruled against the city in the suit, filed last year by a coalition of environmental and community groups. The groups said that two votes on the plant — a utility committee vote in February 2018 and and a final vote by the full council in March 2018 — violated the state’s Open Meetings Act, which requires the public to have access to and an opportunity to comment during meetings of public bodies.

The plaintiffs filed a proposed written judgment on Thursday, voiding both votes. But a note attached to the judgment says that the city does not believe that the final vote from March should be voided.

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...