(NOLA Public Schools photo)

Lusher Charter School has released a slate of 11 new names to be considered for its renaming process — two of which still include the name “Lusher” in the title, according to the school’s renaming survey. Those options aren’t sitting well with some of the school community. 

The Uptown school’s buildings — its elementary school and the former Alcee Fortier High School, which now houses Lusher’s middle and high school — owned by the Orleans Parish School Board, were renamed earlier this year as part of a district-wide process to rename schools found to be named for a slave owner, separatist or segregationist in line with a new policy and process the NOLA Public Schools district undertook last year. 

But the school district’s decision only goes as far as the plaques on the buildings. New Orleans’ independent charter schools are in charge of their own school names. Advocates for Arts-Based Education, the nonprofit that runs Lusher, has yet to change its name. Robert Mills Lusher was a Confederate official and segregationist.

On Sept. 30, Lusher’s board voted to begin a month and a half long process to rename the school, including forming a naming study group, accepting recommendations and presenting a slate of potential new names to the community for input.  

In presenting the options, the study group said that keeping the name “Lusher” would address any concerns over a loss of branding or funding. Both options would essentially keep the current school name: Lusher Charter School, though one would honor a different Lusher and another would include the word “diversity.” 

Some think the choices undermine the renaming process. 

“I think it’s a big obfuscation of everything that’s been said,” Lusher alumna Corinne Williams said in a Wednesday interview. 

“There’s always a catch to them. I wish I was more surprised,” she said. “My relationship with Lusher school started when I was a kindergartener in 2001, so I’m not exactly new around here.” 

When the suggested names were released this last month, parent Vasy McCoy sent out an email update to a group called Lion Pride Families, one of many groups that has pushed for a name change for well over a year.

“The purpose of the group is to drive discussion regarding the need to replace the name of the confederate segregationist Robert Mills Lusher from the school, and to draw attention to the lack of an inclusive and accessible culture at the school, especially as it affects BIPOC families and students,” McCoy wrote in describing the group. “We have a listserv of over 200 families that we keep informed, and work in conjunction with other parent and alumni groups that are attempting to affect this change at LCS.”

In an email to families, McCoy criticized the process as opaque, noting it included only a small board-selected group to narrow down presumably dozens if not hundreds of suggestions to a list of 11. 

The first option preserving the name is “Lusher Charter School – In honor of Dr. Jeanne Marie Lusher,” Lusher’s list of names states. Jeanne Marie Lusher, who worked in New Orleans for a period of time but was born in Toledo, Ohio and spent most of her career in Detroit. She died in 2016 in Michigan.

“Dr. Jeanne Marie Lusher began her distinguished career in pediatric hematology at Charity Hospital in New Orleans,” the writeup states. “She had a love for music, and a diversity fellowship honors her commitment.  Her name disassociates the school with Robert Mills Lusher, realigns it to a person of honor and addresses community concerns about a loss of branding and the anticipated financial impact.”

But McCoy and others find that reasoning has shallow footing. 

Jeanne Lusher “certainly would not even be a candidate for the renaming process except that she happens to have the same last name of the school’s current namesake,” McCoy wrote. “It is a farcical insult to the intelligence of the LCS community that this name was ever under consideration, much less that it has been short-listed.”

The second suggestion containing “Lusher” is “Lusher Charter School of Academic Excellence, Diversity and the Arts.”

Williams, the alumna, has trouble with that suggestion too.

“That’s not a renaming. That’s an addition to what they already have. I will give them academic excellence, I will give them the arts,” she said. “Diversity — there’s a question mark next to that one. We also know diversity is not complete without equity and I think what they really lack is equity.” 

“The clinging to the name is more about power and ego on behalf of some of the administrators as opposed to racism,” Williams said. “I think it’s definitely inherently racist, but I think this about a brand someone has built and their refusal to let that go.”

That suggestion, McCoy wrote “is a slap in the face of the entire renaming process, making a mockery of the pain and heartache that many members of our community have expressed over the last several years.”

”Adding the word ‘diversity’ to a man’s name that signifies racism does nothing to disassociate the school from the dark history that the board indicated just weeks ago it was ready to unyoke itself from permanently,” McCoy added.  

A former Lusher educator, Darleen Mipro, said she was also concerned about the possibility the name isn’t fully changed. 

“To me, it’s pretty infuriating that this list contains two options to modify, but not actually change, the name,” Mipro wrote in an email this week. “Furthermore, since the entire list of suggested names was not released, it’s impossible to have an accurate sense of what the community is actually requesting and providing input for.”

McCoy is encouraging Lusher stakeholders to contact the board and to attend a PTSA meeting on Nov. 9.

“It is extremely disingenuous for the board to publicly applaud themselves last month for finally agreeing to change the name of the school, and then this week submit the school’s current name, in two different forms, as realistic options for “renaming”,” McCoy wrote. “That decision displays either an utter callousness for its community, or a fundamental and disturbing misunderstanding of the nature of the problem with the current name.”

Lusher’s board meets Nov. 11 to consider a name change.

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...