Fifteen black-led New Orleans charter school groups — that combined run 31 schools in the city — have declared Juneteenth a paid holiday, according to a release from InspireNOLA Schools. The holiday, observed on June 19, celebrates the day when the last enslaved black Americans were freed in 1865 after the end of the Civil War. 

Jamar McKneely, the CEO of InspireNOLA said the educators spoke recently to reflect, on both the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the treatment of black people by police, as protests around the country continue in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Floyd was a black Minneapolis man who was killed in police custody after a white officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. 

“All of us had a conference call and we talked about ways we could not only unify our students but also our organizations,” McKneely said. “We decided to allow this to be our first initiative with a lot of different initiatives we plan on doing throughout the year.”

Jamar McKneely, the CEO of InspireNOLA Charter Schools. (InspireNOLA)

“We want to make sure we are protecting our youth and especially inspiring them around their culture,” he said. 

The city’s public schools serve roughly 45,000 students. Eighty percent of them are black.

“We recognize the racial inequities and disparities that are still plaguing our city, state, and nation. As school entities that are Black led and serve majority students of color, we acknowledge that recognizing and celebrating Juneteenth as a holiday is long overdue,” a statement released by InspireNOLA spokeswoman Nannette Blake read.

“The collaborative goal of recognizing this significant day is for it to serve as a reminder of the importance of black history, events, and culture,” the statement says. 

Publicly funded, privately run charter schools control set their own calendars. Though most schools are out for the summer, central office staff are working and some summer programs are in session. 

The groups include: Algiers Charter School Association, Audubon Charter School, Bethune Elementary Charter School, Bricolage Academy, Einstein Charter Schools, Elan Academy, Fannie C. Williams Charter School, Friends of King Schools, InspireNOLA Charter Schools, Lake Forest Charter School, New Beginnings Schools Foundation, Noble Minds Institute, RENEW Charter Schools, Sophie B. Wright Charter School and Warren Easton High School. The nonprofit New Schools for New Orleans will also honor the holiday. 

“We are asking the district to consider pushing it legislative wise to see if it can be done across the state,” McKneely 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...