Plessy Community School will leave the French Quarter this summer for a school in the 7th Ward at the behest of the NOLA Public Schools district’s Superintendent Avis Williams, school officials announced Thursday, leaving the historic neighborhood without a school.
The district informed Plessy “that they have made the decision, due to the $15-$18 million in anticipated maintenance costs over time, to involuntarily and permanently relocate Plessy French Quarter,” Plessy CEO Meghan Paychaudhuri wrote in an email to families.
The news comes one year after school officials considered moving the campus over similar concerns but faced pushback from families and the community, including fears the building could be decommissioned and sold to private developers. But another school was selected for the alternative site Plessy applied for and the district agreed to invest in the French Quarter campus.
Now, despite that plan, district officials say the buildings’ needs are too great in a city with declining school-age population.
“NOLA Public Schools is facing an unprecedented decline in K-12 enrollment,” Williams wrote in her letter. “This is forcing us to think of innovative ways to ensure our highest quality facilities serve more students while also minimizing the use of school facilities that do not meet our educational standard. Homer Plessy’s current campus is the 8th lowest quality occupied city in our portfolio with one of the largest capital needs based on its size.”
The city has roughly 80 operating public schools, though the district owns many additional vacant buildings and lots, reflecting the city’s much larger population prior to Hurricane Katrina.
In justifying the decision, Williams also noted the French Quarter campus did not meet “basic educational standards” the district has established in recent years as it attempts to manage its portfolio of more than 100 buildings. That included, in this case, a campus of “2 acres or higher and program capacity of 500 or higher.“
Plessy will move its 1st through 4th grade students, currently in the French Quarter, to 1651 N. Tonti Street. The campus is a little under two miles from Plessy’s current St. Philip Street site in the French Quarter.
The March 2 announcement came about five weeks after the deadline for the district’s annual enrollment lottery — where parents apply for their child’s new school placement or to transfer to a new school. Studies routinely show school location is a factor in parents’ decisions about which schools to apply to.
The district did not respond to a request for comment inquiring why the announcement wasn’t made before the enrollment deadline.
The Tonti Street school’s current occupant, 42 Charter School run by InspireNOLA, is merging with Pierre Capdau Charter School under the same charter network at the end of the school year.
Plessy’s middle school students are in a building between the two sites. Joseph A. Craig site in Treme which now houses pre-kindergarten and 5th through 8th grade students.
Williams will hold a virtual meeting about the move later this month.
Raychaudhuri asked that parents and others direct complaints and concerns about the relocation to the district.
“In 1727, the Ursuline nuns established the first school in the French Quarter,” Raychaudhuri wrote. “Plessy French Quarter is deeply saddened to be marked in history as the last.”