NEW ORLEANS – More than six years after a federal judge entered a consent judgment to remedy systemic discrimination of students with disabilities in New Orleans’s decentralized public school system, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has filed a five-point plan to ensure ongoing monitoring of special education in the city’s schools.
The plan offers a path forward if U.S. District Court Judge Jay Zainey decides to end court monitoring of a settlement agreement reached in 2015 – after the SPLC filed a federal, class-action lawsuit on behalf of students with disabilities denied equal access to New Orleans schools. The SPLC submitted the plan, at Zainey’s request, to strengthen proactive compliance and monitoring of special education in New Orleans.
“While we would like for the court to continue providing oversight of the settlement agreement, this plan gives the Louisiana Department of Education and the Orleans Parish School Board an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to fixing a deeply broken system, and replacing it with one that respects the rights of students with disabilities,” said Lauren Winkler, senior staff attorney for the SPLC children’s rights project.
SPLC’s plan, which focuses on the needs of families and students with disabilities, would: enhance the monitoring process; strengthen monitoring standards; provide responsive and targeted technical assistance; enhance accountability; and empower families and improve transparency. The Court will consider plans during a status conference on November 16, 2021.
Chris Roe, who leads a local parent advocacy group for students with disabilities and helped develop the proposal, believes that the consent judgement and independent monitoring have been vital for holding school leaders accountable.
“This is not the time to relax oversight of our schools on this issue. Our students need greater support and our schools need increased oversight and transparency to ensure students are getting the services they need, especially now given the disproportionate impact of COVID on students with disabilities,” Roe said. “Our parents continue to report roadblocks and delays in obtaining crucial services for their students.”
Nette Archangel has two children, ages 6 and 7, with disabilities in New Orleans. They have changed schools at least four times due to problems receiving the appropriate services to meet their needs. Archangel said that her children often experience disciplinary action for behavior associated with their disabilities.
“The school my children attend have a high suspension rate. Never in a million years did I think that my child, at five years old, would be part of that statistic, but he was,” Archangel said. “We're at a loss and really stressed out because we don't know what else to do. We don't want to change schools again, because it seems to be a systemic issue in New Orleans. We just want our kids to be safe and educated. It is a constant disappointment over and over again.”
Families are encouraged to contact the SPLC to share their experiences with special education in New Orleans at: (504) 533-4121 or PBvBrumley@splcenter.org. For more information about the case, visit: https://www.splcenter.org/seeking-justice/case-docket/pb-et-al-v-pastorek.