Based in New Orleans, the SPLC’s Louisiana office is dedicated to ensuring that all children have equal access to public education, to reforming school discipline policies that criminalize children for typical adolescent behavior, and ensuring vulnerable youth have access to the mental health services and rehabilitative resources necessary to enable them to reach their full potential.
We also work to reduce the number of incarcerated young people, to reform the juvenile justice system, and to ensure the dignity of youth involved in these systems.
Our work is desperately needed in Louisiana.
Louisiana students face large disparities in educational opportunities. Far too many children – particularly poor students, students of color, students with disabilities, and students with limited English proficiency – are not getting access to the opportunities and resources they need to be successful.
Instead, schools across the state push vulnerable students out of the classroom through exclusionary discipline practices. In fact, many Louisiana school districts have turned to law enforcement to handle routine disciplinary matters – with devastating consequences. Such involvement by police and the juvenile justice system doesn’t ensure safer communities or better students. Instead, research shows it only increases a student’s chances of dropping out and ending up in prison.
Children and teens with mental illness are particularly vulnerable to these consequences. Almost six in 10 Louisiana children are unable to access needed mental health services, the worst in any state. Conversely, children in Louisiana are the most likely to grow up and end up in prison.
We must reform Louisiana’s broken systems and adopt policies that build on our state’s strengths: its children, its families and its communities.
We’re employing a strategy that uses litigation, legislative advocacy, and public education to combat these destructive policies and ensure that children have the opportunities they need to become capable, productive adults. We also work with parents throughout Louisiana to help them understand and defend their legal rights when it comes to their children.
Since opening our office in 2007, we’ve made great progress.
As many as one-quarter of Louisiana public school students have been protected by our settlement agreements mandating significant education reforms, such as increased mental health and academic services and the use of an evidence-based program to improve student behavior.
In New Orleans, a landmark consent decree will help ensure students with disabilities are no longer denied access to the city’s public charter schools or pushed into schools unable to provide the educational services they deserve under federal law.
And in Jefferson Parish, steps are being taken to end the discriminatory treatment of Latino students following our civil rights complaint to the federal government.
But there is more work to be done.
Across Louisiana, there are still policies and practices that deprive vulnerable children of their rights. Classroom misbehavior is still met with handcuffs in many districts. Families all over the state still struggle to get the mental health services their children need and deserve under the law. And hundreds of children languish for years in detention centers that are incapable of providing meaningful rehabilitation.
We’re fighting for their rights and remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting Louisiana’s children.