As issues of education and equity continue to mount under the reforms implemented in public education in New Orleans, one local group remains committed to not only pointing out disparities, but to making a positive difference.

by Anitra D. Brown

A parent needing some guidance on choosing a school for her child…

A fired teacher just wanting to vent…

Parents searching for advice and resources to help their special-needs students…

Parent advocate Karran Harper Royal describes the above scenarios as just a few of the reasons individuals have called the School Justice Hotline during the past year.

A service of the New Orleans Education Equity Roundtable, the School Justice Line is an outlet for parents, students and teachers alike—an open invitation to call and share any problem or concern they might be experiencing at a local traditional or charter public school.

Organizers say creating the hotline came naturally.

“We would hear this or that about things going at schools,” Harper Royal says. “We wanted to provide an outlet for people experiencing frustrations. We really wanted to capture some of this information in the hopes of making positive changes.”

Parents, students and other concerned individuals can call the School Justice Line day or night at 504-365-3006 to report a problem, leave a confidential message or request call back.

“We have been getting calls and it gives us an idea of the (problems) people are facing,” Harper Royal-says, adding that in some cases it is easy to lead callers in the right direction by linking them with other community organizations and resources.

Founded in 2009, the NOEERT is, according to its Facebook page, “a collaborative group of organizations and individuals committed to making educational equity a central issue to be addressed in all forums where decisions regarding educational policy, planning and practice are discussed in Louisiana.”

Members include Harper-Royal, retired educator and administrator Dr. Raynard Sanders, former Orleans Parish School Board member Rev. Torin Sanders, filmmaker, photographer and community activist Phoebe Ferguson and researcher and writer Lance Hill, among others.

More to the point, the NOEERT is a research-oriented collaborative unabashedly dedicated to drawing attention to the inequities of the charter school movement in New Orleans.

“We are a group of like-minded people who have concerns about the changes that have occurred in public education,” Harper-Royal says. “We really care about the changes that have taken place in public education and we want to see real reform.”

As a result of post-Katrina reforms, the vast majority of public schools in Orleans Parish are controlled by private charter management organizations and so-called community boards, a fact that many contend leads to far more freedom in the operation of individual school sites and less accountability to parents and other stakeholders with detrimental results for students, all but reduced to pawns in what for has seemingly become the privatization of public education for profit. And even as so-called reform advocates tout substantial gains, the available data continues to tell another story. For instance, despite boasts of turnarounds and gains, the majority of charter and direct-run schools under the Recovery School District-New Orleans earned Ds and Fs—failing grades—in the most recent report of school performance scores issued by the state.

Meanwhile, concerns regarding the inability of many of the charter-managed campuses to meet the specific needs of special-needs students continue to exist along with disappointments linked to the ability of many of these schools to selectively pick and choose students and/or create impractical criteria and rules that make it easier to expel students from their campuses.

The NOEERT has designated Oct. 21-25 School Justice Week and will host a series of events to highlight information, programs and resources that could prove useful for local parents and education advocates, especially as they attempt to navigate the changing education landscape.

To bring awareness to the many issues surrounding school justice and equity in education, the NOEERT will host a series of workshops on Oct. 22-24, with topics ranging from a critical analysis of the New Orleans education reform model to specific tips and resources for parents. The seminars will be held at 2475 Canal St. Each night begins at 6 p.m. and is open to the public, but seating is limited. Interested individuals should call the School Justice Line to RSVP at 504-365-3006.


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