And Another Thing… with Anitra Brown

A recent report released by the state reveals all sorts of “flagrant” problems and cover ups at Lagniappe Academies, the St. Louis Street school operating under the loose control of the Recovery School District.

What? I immediately give the side-eye glance. Picture me rolling my eyes to the left and pursing my lips just a bit as I take that fleeting lateral look without turning my head. You know—the side-eye glance.

To make it all even more offensive, The Times-Picayune reports this as news. Really? I mean tell us something we don’t already know. A whole bunch of charter operations under the RSD’s control have been running wild for years now. They have been using all sorts of tricks to select and reject students. They have been failing to adequately serve the needs of special education students. They have been mishandling public money and big time.

Ostensibly, this is a school that has performed well enough to have the opportunity to elect to return to the Orleans Parish School Board. In other words, until recently, the very folk that now publicly shame Lagniappe have been actually holding it up as an example of all that is right with the so-called reform movement.  According to the school’s website, John Ayer’s of the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives once called the school a “pocket of excellence”. But now . . . now, the state wants to call out Lagniappe Academies . . . now, right now.

We have been saying for years that this so-called reform and the proliferation of charter schools have been hurting our children. No, not all of them are bad. But more schools are guilty of this sort of conduct. Yet, earlier this month, Lagniappe Academies was curiously called out by the state for “flagrant” violations.

Oh, okay. Side-eye glance.

So what does the RSD, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Louisiana Department of Education get out of the release of this report? I think they want us to think it’s OK that they close Lagniappe Academies. I think they want us to be mad that Lagniappe Academies’ administration and staff were allegedly over there doing all of these horrible things—neglecting the education of special needs students, covering up that neglect during visits from the state, creating a do-not-call parent list in order to keep some students out of the school. And I have no doubt that they would rather yank its charter and shut it down before they lose it to OPSB. That is what they have done. I think the only reason they have not gone after MLK Charter (the only other school to vote to return to the OPSB) is because they have no ammunition.

I think they think we are stupid.

I know they are wrong.

First, there is no way this has been happening without those in charge of overseeing this school knowing about what was going on. Flagrant does not become flagrant overnight. It starts off small, clandestine, covert and then it grows. When it realizes you will give it an inch, it takes a mile. Flagrant receives permission to be flagrant through acquiescence and silent sanction. Patrick Dobard saw what was happening at Lagniappe. John White saw what was happening at Lagniappe. Hell, Stevie Wonder saw it—plain as day and way before this report was curiously issued. They had to have known these flagrant violations existed for years before March 2015.

They knew. They knew, and they did nothing. They swept it under the rug because it did not help their cause. The state is no hero here. If there is any flagrant violation, they are complicit. But now it is a tool for them—a handy distraction, something to muddy the narrative (to borrow a phrase from John White) just as Lagniappe Academies’ board has voted to return to the Orleans Parish School Board.
Coincidence? Side-eye glance.

Don’t misunderstand my point. If even a nugget of what has been said is true, Lagniappe needs to be called out. But don’t be duped either into thinking that the RSD and LDOE are now pointing out these flagrant violations because it’s the right thing to do. Now that Lagniappe’s board wants to go back to local control the very same people (LDOE, RSD & BESE) that should have been guiding and holding it accountable for years wants to spill the beans about all the terrible stuff taking place there.

For those of you for whom this story is not at all NEWS, those of you that have been fighting this hostile takeover of our schools masquerading as reform for 10 years now, please know what this really is—A DISTRACTION, A DIVERSION. THE HIGHEST LEVELS OF DUPLICITY AND SUBTERFUGE. We have known forever that many schools have been coming up short and shortchanging our children. Now that one of them wants to go OPSB, the state wants to release a scathing report and the T-P wants to call it news.
Side-eye glance, for real!
Then there is the recent case involving former school board member Ira Thomas, who resigned from the governing body as well as from his position with Southern University at New Orleans after being charged with bribery. The allegation is that he took $5,000 disguised as a campaign contribution during his bid for Orleans Parish sheriff to swing an OPSB janitorial contract the way of the so-called contributor.

Let me first be abundantly clear that my point is not to excuse Mr. Thomas for his alleged wrongdoings. In fact, if what he is accused of doing is so, I am sorely disappointed—not only in that he has compromised his position, but that he sold himself cheap. Message to all Black elected and appointed officials: This is what they think of you. They think all it takes for you to sell your souls is few thousand bucks! Oh, yeah and they are watching you. Scratch that. They are setting traps for you.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if shadowy figures lurking in the background and pulling strings had anything to do with the timing. Yep, this too is way too coincidental for my taste.

Supposedly, Ira Thomas was caught on tape. It would seem to me that there aren’t many dots to connect, paper trails to follow or witnesses to turn in order to make this case. An operative was wired and sent to him. There was some alleged quid pro quo talk; and purportedly, he took the bait. The sheriff’s election was more than a year ago. You mean to say that there are people who have known for more than a year that Thomas did this, but felt perfectly okay with allowing him to continue to serve on the school board and represent the people of this city—for a year!

Of course, I am not privy to the inner workings of our federal criminal justice system. Maybe they were trying to build a bigger case. Maybe they wanted to see if they could record him taking more petty bribes. I’ll admit I don’t know why it would take so long to charge someone caught on tape committing a crime. There may be a perfectly sensible explanation. I don’t know it. What I do know is that the timing of these charges now plays conveniently into the hands of those dead set on continuing to push the so-called education reform agenda in New Orleans and those who are determined not to see schools returned to the Orleans Parish School Board.

Had Thomas been charged a year ago, he would have long been replaced on the board and his indiscretion would be a distant memory. But it is fresh, happening around the same time that schools have and will be voting on return to the OPSB. Now the reformers bent on keeping control of public schools facilities, public money, and the fate of our children in the hands of the RSD and the cadre of quasi-private charter schools that operate with little oversight get to hold one man up as an example of why the Orleans Parish School Board should not be allowed to accept the return of any schools desiring to leave the RSD.

The maligning has already begun. “They aren’t ready for the return of schools.” “They are still corrupt.” “They can’t be trusted.” That’s what is being said by some right now.

Now this is where I would argue that Ira Thomas is just one man whose actions cannot be used to smear the whole; and we should not use this as a reason why schools should not go back to the elected Orleans Parish School Board or to impugn the rest of its members. Here is where I would say that the RSD has hardly done a better job at keeping the public trust. Year after year, legislative audits show unaccounted for money and property—way more than $5,000 worth. Year after year, state school ratings show lackluster and downright dismal performance among most RSD schools. But I think it’s a moot point.

You see, with Thomas off of the local board, the small, but vocal faction that provided at least some push back against the wholesale reform efforts that have swept the city, just got a little smaller—leaving Sarah Usdin, Woody Koppel, Seth Bloom and Board President Nolan Marshall with an even stronger voting bloc. Quite frankly, I don’t see those four pushing for the return of schools anyway.

Yes, I am disappointed in Mr. Thomas because he played right into the hands of the enemy; and the parents, school children and taxpayers of Orleans Parish will suffer because of it.

And yes, it all gets the side-eye glance.

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