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Every year, Louisiana schools push out more than 10,000 students. In 2006, the most recent year for which data is available, the state’s broken public school system had one of the worst graduation rates in the nation. That’s when 80 students a day – three classrooms’ worth of students – left Louisiana schools without receiving a diploma.

Many times, harsh discipline policies push students out of school and increase the chances that children will end up in the juvenile justice system. Other times, students – particularly students with disabilities – don’t receive the educational services that can make the difference between incarceration and graduation.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is dedicated to reforming Louisiana’s school systems through litigation and grassroots campaigns. Based in New Orleans, our Louisiana initiative targets harsh school discipline policies that criminalize and frequently abuse students. We also work to ensure that students get educational services in school that are required by law and build on their individual strengths. Our community advocates work with parents and local groups throughout Louisiana to help parents understand their legal rights when it comes to their child’s education and to provide advocacy for children,

Our work is already meeting with success. One-quarter of Louisiana public school students are now protected by SPLC settlement agreements mandating significant reforms, including increased mental health and academic services and the use of an evidence-based program to improve student behavior. These agreements include the Jefferson, East Baton Rouge, Caddo and Calcasieu parish school districts. The SPLC also reached a settlement agreement with the Recovery School District that resulted in the district revising its policy on the use of restraints, such as handcuffs, on students.

But there is still much work to be done. In New Orleans, students with disabilities are being denied access to public schools. It’s just one example from a state where the futures of too many young students are being cut short. We are fighting for the rights of these students and remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting all of Louisiana’s students.