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Following SPLC lawsuit, judge grants New Orleans students the chance to walk on graduation day

A state court in Louisiana issued an injunction today that allowed six high school seniors to participate in graduation ceremonies at their New Orleans charter school after they were banned from doing so following a minor senior prank last month.

The ruling, in the Civil District Court of Orleans Parish, came after the SPLC filed suit on the students’ behalf against Sophie B. Wright Charter School. The graduation was held this morning, shortly after the ruling was issued.

The suit claimed that school officials acted arbitrarily and in violation of students’ due process rights by not allowing them to explain themselves or contest their punishment.

“These kinds of due process violations are still too frequent in New Orleans and across this country,” said Victor Jones, a senior supervising attorney with the SPLC. “They harm all children, but students of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately the victims of these punitive, unjust practices.

“Fortunately, the court decided to put students first, allowing them to walk alongside their peers at today’s graduation ceremony. In the future, it is our hope that issues such as this do not require court intervention and that everyone in the education community will make decisions to protect students’ rights, not violate them.”

After the senior prank – an innocuous water balloon fight that caused no serious injuries – the students allegedly involved were suspended for five days and not allowed to attend prom or any other senior activities. Along with being denied the opportunity to explain themselves, they never received proof of their involvement.  Their due process rights – which are protected by the school’s own handbook and are covered under state and federal laws – were completely bypassed.   

But at Sophie B. Wright, along with other New Orleans charter schools, disciplinary action is mandated almost exclusively by the school principal, with little – if any – supervision from the charter board. That makes due process issues par for the course in charter schools, where it’s commonplace for schools to enforce strict disciplinary action without giving students the opportunity to defend their actions.

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