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SPLC Statement on DOE Investigation of Jefferson Parish School System

JEFFERSON PARISH, La. — Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) announced support for the decision by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to investigate widespread reports of discrimination against Black and Brown students, English Learner students and students with disabilities in Jefferson Parish.

The investigation follows a May 2023 complaint by the SPLC describing the Jefferson Parish Public School System’s (JPPSS) failure to protect students from discrimination. The complaint cites numerous violations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

“The U.S. Department of Education’s investigation is welcome news for children and families facing discrimination in Jefferson Parish Public Schools,” said Luz Lopez, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC. “It is our hope that this investigation will lead to much-needed reforms that affirm and preserve the rights of students of color, emergent multilingual students and families, and students with disabilities.”

OCR’s investigation will focus on discrimination related to the recent school closures in Jefferson Parish, including the disproportionate impact of the school closures on Black and Latino students and students with disabilities. While the investigation is ongoing, SPLC is working with community partners to preserve as a historic site one school recently closed under the school closure plan: Washington Elementary STEM School, a school founded by the Black community in the Jim Crow South. To ensure elementary through high school education for Black students, the community not only had to purchase land but also raise funds to build the school structure. Despite the rich historic value of the school, the Jefferson Parish Public School Board voted in April 2023 to close the school and relocate students to a school outside their community. The board even discussed demolishing the school before considering purchase offers. 

On Aug. 10, the Supporters of Washington Elementary STEM School Inc., a 501(c)(3) community-based organization, sent a letter offering to purchase the property for $1 to preserve its history and retain the property for use by the local community. “Precedent for this type of purchase has been previously established, in which the Jefferson Parish School Board has donated properties. Our ancestors were forced to purchase land for the school and pay for its construction in an era in which Jefferson Parish did not recognize the rights of Black children to receive an education,” the letter states.

“SPLC supports the work of the community to save Washington Elementary,” said SPLC Staff Attorney Ashley Dalton. “We are urging the school board to accept the Supporters’ offer on behalf of the community.”