John McDonogh High School on Esplanade Avenue. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

One charter group is calling for the Orleans Parish School Board to reconsider its ban on renaming school buildings and on Monday, the board president announced he will consider it. 

“Some of our schools and buildings currently carry names that are associated with the painful legacy of racism and discrimination, and this must change,” board president Ethan Ashley wrote in an emailed announcement. 

“We want our schools to be welcoming, inclusive, and inspiring environments for our students each day. A key part of that is ensuring that the names of our schools and the people that we honor through naming are reflective of the values of our district,” he wrote.

InspireNOLA, a charter group that operates seven schools, sent a letter Monday calling on board to change its school renaming policy. InspireNOLA operates two schools in buildings named after John McDonogh, a slave owner who left part of his fortune to the school system. One is McDonogh 42 in Treme, which the group calls 42 Charter School. 

“He bought and sold slaves and the money he made was directly tied to the plantation economy,” InspireNOLA CEO Jamar McKneely wrote. 

“The issues of white supremacy within education existed prior to John McDonogh, but continued and were exacerbated after his death,” he wrote.

McKneely asks that the school board allow his group to form a committee to decide on a new name for McDonogh 42 and that the board accept their recommendation.

The request comes as a wave of 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. 

Demonstrators pulled down a bust of McDonogh across from City Hall in mid-June and threw it into the Mississippi River. 

New Orleans’ unique decentralized school system often means charter schools, which are operated by nonprofits and can turn over frequently, don’t share the same name as the building they operate in.

Ashley wrote that the board would be “actively reviewing Policy FDC,” which bars the renaming of schools. The board banned renaming of school buildings in 2015. 

InspireNOLA also runs McDonogh 35 High School, the first public high school for African-Americans in New Orleans, which was highly regarded for decades, with a list of alumni that includes Ernest “Dutch” Morial, the city’s first black mayor.

McKneely’s request did not address McDonogh 35.

Another school has attracted public attention over the last month. As of midday Monday, more than 4,200 people have signed a petition calling for the renaming of Robert Mills Lusher school. Lusher was a state superintendent of education who fought desegregation. Lusher Charter School is named after a district-owned building named for him, so to rename Lusher would require two changes — one from the district renaming the building and one from the nonprofit charter group reported last week that its CEO, Kathy Riedlinger, said she was open to considering a name change. 

It appears the issue of the buildings will be addressed at late July board meetings. The names of the organizations, however, would be left to the nonprofits that run them. 

“We look forward to offering new names that reflect our District’s values for board consideration at our upcoming board meeting in July,” Ashley wrote.

Neither Ashley nor the district responded to an email asking which buildings were being considered for new names.

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...