by Maria Harmon and Melissa Francis
August 10, 2021
Mr. Ethan Ashley
Dr. Henderson Lewis
Orleans Parish School Board
NOLA Public Schools
2401 Westbend Parkway
New Orleans, Louisiana 70114
Superintendent Henderson Lewis and the Orleans Parish School Board,
On behalf of the New Orleans Parent Union, we represent over 500 parents in our work with education. Step Up Louisiana is a community-based organization committed to building power to win education and economic justice for all. We work with multiracial and intergenerational constituents and community members to “Step Up” by campaigning, organizing from a racial justice perspective, and holding public officials accountable.
Most of our work with education is parent advocacy in the complex system of charter schools in New Orleans. Over the years, parents have voiced numerous concerns about the lack of communication and responsiveness by most charter schools for students and parents’ concerns and needs. Many parents, students, and teachers can account that schools have little to no communication or no accountable safety plan that is aligned with CDC or ADA guidelines, and properly monitored by a trained sanitation company and enforced.
Our parents are deeply concerned about the accountability of charter schools in providing a safe learning environment in this Covid-19 pandemic. Their concerns heightened last school year when some charter schools offered no virtual instruction after schools closed in-person learning in March 2020. This essentially ended adequate and effective learning for their children during the 2019-2020 school year. Also, numerous parents were told by charter operators that they could not assist them with internet access or assistance in getting a chrome book or laptop after being told that every child would be provided access or assistance if needed. Charter Operator contracts in Orleans Parish state that a 1:1 student to device ratio would be implemented. These actions are not an adequate form of implementation of that promise in their contracts.
We are aware that as recent as April of 2021, the State of Louisiana has received additional emergency funds of over $2.5 billion for education. According to the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), their mission for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) is to, “Provide evidence-based interventions to meet social, emotional, and academic needs of students.”
Charter schools have already and will be receiving additional funds via the recent federal COVID Relief bill passed last February to open and operate schools safely, and also the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans. Charter Operators in New Orleans have an abundance in funding for them to appropriate adequate funding to meet our children and teachers’ needs. As we resume city-wide in person learning next school year, it is extremely important that all charter operators follow local, state, and federal guidelines related to Covid-19.
According to the new strands of COVID and the great vulnerabilities our children face in being in unsafe and unhealthy environments; we are concerned about our children’s learning environment not being properly aligned with CDC and ADA guidelines. Our parents, students, and teachers deserve to attend a safe in-person school that is properly cleaned by professionals immediately.
As concerned parents, we have three demands for you to follow the CDC and ADA guidelines, in addition to the school operational guidelines from the Louisiana Department of Education, and the Orleans Parish School Board guidelines for COVID-19 care for the 2021-2022 school year.
1. Release weekly reports of how often New Orleans public school K-12 buildings and classrooms are being properly sanitized by trained professionals, along with the names of the sanitation companies separate from custodial staff.
2. Enforcement of CDC and ADA health and safety guidelines for students, teachers, and educational staff in regards to administering school supplies, sanitation, and protocols for positive cases.
3. Enforce accountability by starting the revocation process for all charter school contracts that are not following the law(s).
To ensure the safety of our students, parents and guardians need to be aware of where their children are at all times. Therefore, we further request a permanent universal school calendar policy be implemented in Orleans Parish schools. Centralizing the school system calendar will help to eliminate the issue of knowing whether a child is truant or on break from school. A similar calendar was put in place during the 2020-21 school year to better regulate students and their class time during the COVID-19 Pandemic; all school days, holiday breaks, and professional development days began and ended in synchronization.
In conclusion, we are presenting our demands in efforts to establish a transparent, accountable, equitable, and safe public school system for all children, teachers, and families in New Orleans.
Step Up Louisiana New Orleans Parent Union
Maria Harmon & Melissa Francis
2022 St. Bernard Ave. #124B
New Orleans, LA 70116