NOLA Public Schools' West Bank headquarters.

Three New Orleans charter schools — Benjamin Franklin High School, Lusher Charter School and Lake Forest Elementary Charter School — have earned automatic renewals to continue operating in the NOLA Public Schools district while 15 others will have to undergo renewal reviews, district leaders told Orleans Parish School Board members at a Tuesday committee meeting.

The five schools with the lowest academic performance — Phillis Wheatley, ReNEW SciTech, Robert Russa Moton, Lawrence D. Crocker and ReNEW Schaumburg — are undergoing “comprehensive reviews,” Chief Schools Accountability Officer Kevin George said. The district will announce contract renewal recommendations at a special meeting on Dec. 8. 

Because those five schools had the lowest academic performance they could face closure — but district officials appear to have loosened renewal standards this year amid the pandemic, and are considering factors in addition to academic performance.

District officials also announced the hiring of a contractor, Beloved Community, to perform an equity audit. The group will “evaluate School District policies, practices, and procedures to develop a racial equity plan to ensure that racism does not affect outcomes and experiences for our students and families.”

Some of those very topics — renaming school buildings named for controversial figures and student discipline during virtual classes — also came up at the afternoon meeting. 

Beloved Director Lesley Brown Rawlings gave a brief presentation to the board Tuesday, noting their work will review everything from educator hiring practices to student discipline. 

“We often say our work at Beloved exists in the nexus of equity at work, equity at schools and equity at home,” Rawlings said. 

Rawlings said the group will review both quantitative and qualitative data during its roughly 8-month review.

“We’ll do that through our school equity audits, stakeholder insights and our internal practice reviews,” Rawlings said. 

The work begins this month and will continue through the summer, she said. 

The district will also address distance learning discipline with a new policy soon. An incident in Jefferson Parish drew national attention after a nine-year-old boy was suspended for handling a BB gun while he was in his bedroom during a virtual learning session. Jefferson Parish school officials argued it was an extension of campus weapons laws. Weeks later, lawmakers passed a bill named after the boy which required schools to rethink discipline policies for in-home learning in a time where a significant portion of students are learning from home. The Jefferson Parish district is contemplating a legal challenge to attempt to overturn the law, The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate reported.  

NOLA Public Schools Director of Community Relations Justin McCorkle also went through the district’s process for renaming schools. A long-simmering controversy nationwide 

Following George Floyd’s death, the Minneapolis man whose killing in police custody sparked nationwide unrest over injustice and racism, the district updated its naming policy, giving it sole authority to name district-owned buildings. The new policy also explicitly condemned Confederate ties, adding the language that the board is “fundamentally opposed to retaining names of school facilities named for persons who were slave owners, confederate officials and segregation supporters.”

Once a committee decides which buildings should be considered for new names, the public will be allowed to comment at two public meetings and will have at least 45 days. Buildings that are currently occupied by a school will get a specific notification that the building is being considered for a new name whereas vacant buildings will be left to the board. 

NOLA Public Schools Chief Operations Officer Tiffany Delcour said all COVID-19 safety inspections have been completed.

“As of today all our facility inspections have been completed with no major issues identified,” she said. “We have completed all safety inspections of all NOLA Public School owned facilities or authorized programs”

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...