Access Denied: New Orleans Students and Parents Identify Barriers to Public Education

New Orleans families remember the hope they felt after Hurricane Katrina when education stakeholders promised a “world-class” public school system, “in which every decision focuses on the best interests of the children.”1 The pledge to rebuild New Orleans public schools hinged on a model in which quality schools would be accessible to all, while providing innovative education practices tailored to meet the long-neglected needs of students. Unfortunately, these promises remain empty for many New Orleans students.

Despite this reality, many New Orleans families are determined to advocate for schools that will educate and nurture the growth of all students. This report, the first in a series, documents only two of the pressing reform areas identified by parents and families: 1) the brutal and ineffective school security and discipline policies and 2) the barriers to public education for students with disabilities.

The rest of the country is looking to New Orleans as a model for educational reform and innovation.2 The testimonials contained within this report from families and students provide a cautionary tale for school districts and states looking to New Orleans for solutions to the issues that vex public schools across the country. While school officials boast of innovation and declare success in reforming the New Orleans public education system, the reality for many students remains grim. In fact, innovative education practices have yet to reach thousands of children. Far too many New Orleans students struggle to merely access public education. Others languish in schools that are ill-equipped to meet their needs and recognize their strengths. Schools subject children to brutal and coldly punitive environments.

New Orleans children came home with the promise that education leaders were making an unprecedented investment in their future. This promise has yet to be realized. Education reformers cannot claim genuine victory in New Orleans without remedying the systemic failures described within these pages.

This report was written by Shakti Belway, SPLC staff attorney (admitted in MS) and Director of Policy and Community Engagement. Research and editorial assistance was provided by Emmanuel Felton, Advocacy Fellow and Elizabeth Hinson, legal intern.

1 Susan Saulny, Rough Starts for Effort to Remake Faltering New Orleans Schools, The New York Times, Aug. 21, 2006.

2 Press Release, Louisiana Department of Education, Louisiana Selected as Finalist for Round Two of Race to the Top (July 27, 2010), available at www.louisianaschools.net/lde/comm/pressrelease.aspx?PR=1442; see Louisiana’s Race to the Top Initiative, www.doe.state.la.us/lde/r2t/index.html; see U.S. Department of Education, Investing in Innovation Fund, available at www2.ed.gov/programs/innovation/index.html; see Press Release, Louisiana Department of Education, Louisiana, Tennessee Awarded $30 Million Innovation Grant to Transform Struggling Urban School Districts (Aug. 5, 2010), available at www.louisiana-schools.net/lde/comm/pressrelease.aspx?PR=1444.