(NOLA Public Schools photo)

The Lusher Charter School board voted Thursday night to begin the process of changing the school’s name, following the Orleans Parish School Board and other local charter boards in removing names associated with school segregation and the Confederacy.  

The K-12 school is named after Robert Mills Lusher, a Confederate official during the Civil War, who later served as state superintendent of education and was a strong proponent of school segregation. 

The vote on Thursday will only begin the renaming process. The board does not yet have a replacement name in mind. For now, the Lusher name will remain. After a 90-minute closed door session, and without public discussion, the board president named a five-person panel to present three renaming options to the board by November.

Lusher — which was founded as an elementary school in 1917 — became a charter school in the year following Hurricane Katrina, when charter schools began to replace traditional district-operated schools in New Orleans.

The Orleans Parish School Board has already changed the name of the former Lusher building, which is district owned and houses Lusher’s elementary school, for Dr. Everett J. Williams, Jr., the city’s first Black superintendent of the city’s public school system. Lusher’s high school campus, named for Alcee Fortier who was also a segregation supporter, was renamed for Elijah Brimmer, Jr., who was the school’s longtime band director.

The Lusher building was one of a number of district-owned buildings that OPSB has recently renamed because they were found to be named for a slave owner, separatist or segregationist — a categorization that requires they be renamed under a board policy passed last year. (The board also renamed the former Alcee Fortier High School building, which now houses Lusher’s middle and high school.) The policy language was proposed in June of 2020, as a wave of protests swept the country in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted this summer.

But — the policy only applies to school buildings owned by the Orleans Parish School Board. While in traditional school districts, school names and building names are the same, NOLA Public Schools is made up entirely of independent charter schools, which operate under their own names. That leaves individual program name changes — like Lusher’s — up to their independent appointed school boards.

Thursday’s meeting began in an executive session — shutting out parents and community members and frustrating members of the public. Board attorney James Brown rationalized the board’s move into an executive session citing the state Attorney General’s office, which has opined that public boards can meet behind closed doors to consult with their attorneys on legal matters. That’s due to attorney-client privilege, which is recognized in the Louisiana Code of Evidence

“Because attorney-client privilege is statutory in Louisiana and is a matter provided by the legislature that is a permissible basis to have an executive session to receive advice of legal counsel,” he said. 

Several parents and community members questioned the need to discuss the matter behind closed doors. 

“You are well within your rights to go into executive session; however, it does not mean you have to, particularly given the importance and passion surrounding the issue,” parent Kelly McClure wrote in the comments.

“It’s very confusing to me that you would be going to executive session to talk amongst yourselves when this issue has been out in the open,” parent Erin Greenwald said. “It seems underhanded — which is in keeping with the way that this process has taken place. I would encourage you to have that discussion in front of the public.”

The board attorney advised otherwise.

“There are legal issues that need to be addressed and my advice to the client is to receive that in attorney-client privilege,” Brown said. 

Parents sought clarity on how long the private session might take, but the board couldn’t offer specifics. The board met privately for nearly 90 minutes. 

After the private session — board member Rachel Wisdom offered a motion to change the name of the school. The board then took 30 minutes of public comment — all in support of the change. 

“I’m happy we’re here. It’s been a long year,” Wisdom said. “I fully support moving forward with the name change and I hope the rest of you do too.”

“I agree,” board member Alysia Loshbaugh said. “I think there has been a portion of the population that has been hurt by being reminded of the segregation history of the name of the school.”

An 11th-grade student identified as Ms. Jackson supported the decision. 

“The history behind our school and its foundation are heinous and nothing short of heart-wrenching,” she said. “I’ve received a great arts education but I can’t say it’s been worth a toll on my health and a continuing worry about my safety.”

“A white supremisist should not have his name enshrined in a school,” one parent said.

“Voting to change the name is a first step and an important step to moving the school to a more inclusive community,” Greenwald said. “Once this step is taken, I hope the board is ready to take on the hard work of addressing toxic culture.”

Greenwald noted the departure of former principal Steve Corbett, who championed working toward racial equity.

“It was devastating to lose Dr. Corbett as our principal. Please vote today for a name change,” one student said. 

One parent, who identified as a person of color, said her high schoolers were embarrassed to wear the school’s name and that her elementary school-aged daughter also had questions.

“My second-grader continues to ask why administrators won’t change the name of the school from someone who didn’t want her at that school,” she said.

The board voted unanimously to change the school’s name. 

Board member Alysia Loshbaugh then proposed a panel be composed to consider names, take community input, and present three potential names to the board by its November meeting. 

“There have been rumors that one of those options could be a descendant of Lusher, and I hope the board will not consider that,” one parent said. 

With zero discussion from board members — president George Wilson named three administrators and two board members to the panel considering new names. 

They will be Executive Director, Planning and Administration Sheila Nelson, Transition Leader Charlene Hebert, CFO Charmaine Davis, and board members Rachel Wisdom and Gary Solomon

“That’s the group to entrust to work us through this process to three names to be inclusive with this process,” Wilson 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...