Teachers in Louisiana have found themselves on the frontlines of austerity.
First, in an unprecedented vote, the Jefferson Parish School Board voted 8–1 to close seven campuses, four of them traditional elementary schools and the rest alternative programs for students struggling academically.
The board issued more bad news when it announced it was dropping plans to add an art instruction wing at Lincoln Elementary School for the Arts due to cost concerns.
Construction of the wing is a hot-button issue in the area because the proposal to convert Lincoln into a magnet school that would draw students from across the parish was a result of the deliberations leading up to the system’s settling a forty-seven-year-old desegregation lawsuit last year.
NOLA.com interviewed Lena Vern Dandridge, whose father sued to integrate Jefferson Parish public schools in 1964.
“At the time I didn’t pay much attention to it. I was a kid, I was just there to learn,” said Dandridge, who now goes by Dandridge-Houston. “Looking back on it, it wasn’t just education from textbooks. It was cultural.”
Forty-three years later, her name is still on the federal court docket.
In August of last year, US District Judge Kurt Engelhart noted that the Jefferson Parish School Board and lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Dandridge desegregation case had reached an agreement to end the litigation.
During the debate over how to “improve” school policies, the judge proposed several strategies, including firing teachers (called a “staffing shuffle” by NOLA.com) and the “reconstitution of four elementary schools into specialized magnets.”
By tossing out plans to add the art instruction wing, the board was, in essence, destroying one of the key tactics for desegregating schools, flawed as that original strategy might have been.
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed not one, but two, civil rights complaints against the board.