Alternative Journalism Spring 2021: New Orleans’ educational caste system and their forgotten youth

Lusher Charter School ranks in the top 5% of Louisiana schools for overall test scores, have 100% student participation in AP courses, and a #4 ranking out of all the schools in the state. Duncan D. Hunter, California’s U.S. Representative from 2013-2020, referred to Lusher when he stated that, “[o]ther areas of the U.S. could greatly benefit from the launch of similar high-quality charter schools.” Lusher’s prospective students must provide their report card, and, if eligible, must then complete further testing in order to be considered for enrollment. Once enrolled, students are taught by Ivy League alumni, take classes on advanced topics such as mechanical engineering, and can even attain Tulane college credit, with more than 30% of Lusher seniors enrolled at Tulane.

Lusher Middle and High School (Photo by Jeffery Johnston)

At Lusher, only 26% of their students are Black, whereas the state average is 43%. New Orleans’ Black and African American population consists of 59.5% of the total community. Lusher’s student population includes 1,761 students. There are 4,076 Black students in Orleans Parish School District, and only 527 white students. Not only is there a discrepancy in their student demographics, but their name honors Robert Mills Lusher, a white segregationist and confederate. As of June 30th, 2020, the president of the school board, Ethan Ashley, stated the school board’s concern for the matter and that they would rename the schools whose names promote systemic racism. A full eight months later and nothing has changed. While this statement subdued the protests from the students, families, and local community, no further progress has been made on the issue. As of March 31st, 2021, a community meeting was finally held to discuss the renaming of Lusher’s Willow Campus.

New Orleans’ Community Marches in Protest of Lusher Charter Schools
Photo by: Sophia Germer; Additional credit to the New Orleans Advocate, Times-Picayune, and

“Caste is insidious and therefore powerful because it is not hatred, it is not necessarily personal. It is the worn grooves of comforting routines and unthinking expectations, patterns of a social order that have been in place for so long that it looks like the natural order of things.” – Isabel Wilkerson

Lusher Charter Schools are by far not the only New Orleans schools whose name honors racist historical figures. Sophie B. Wright, a predominantly Black school with a 98% minority enrollment, 91% of which are Black, is named after an American educator who was a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy. She was an advocate for education and prison reform, among other social issues, so at least she has some good to her name. A similar story is behind several schools whose name honors John McDonogh, a slave owner who supported the transportation of freed people of color to Liberia. The NOLA Public Schools Facilities Renaming Initiative is currently working on this problem. To get involved in supporting and contributing to the renaming process of New Orleans Public Schools, click here.

“The elevation of others amounts to a demotion of oneself, thus equality feels like a demotion.” – Isabel Wilkerson

Honoring confederate supporters might be just about the only thing that Lusher and Sophie B. Wright have in common. 100% of the students at Sophie B. Wright are economically disadvantaged and enrolled in the Free Lunch Program. Conversely, only 11% of Lusher’s students are eligible for the Free Lunch Program, compared to a state average of 52%. Both are public charter schools in the Uptown New Orleans area, and Lusher’s Middle/High School is only 1.3 miles away from Sophie B. Wright. While both schools are considered public, New Orleans’ elite charter school system allows for the requirement of further testing, and any eligible applicants for Lusher are entered into a ‘lottery’. Sophie B. Wright does not use this same ‘lottery’ system for applicants.

According to an organization, Orleans Public Education Network, which works to fix these racial, educational disparities, “[e]very single failing school [in New Orleans] is at least 90% black and low-income.” Only 25-29% of Sophie B. Wright’s students have proficient Reading/Language Arts test scores, compared to the state’s average of 70%. In spring of 2018, when I was working there as a tutor through the Tulane Community Tutor Program, Sophie B. Wright had no guidance counselors. The school’s overall performance during the 2017-2018 school year was ranked at 61.4, and improved to 78.4 the following year. However, as of spring of 2019, they had the highest number of expulsion recommendations out of all of the Orleans Parish schools, with a total of 78 students recommended in just one year.

Our Voice, Nuestra Voz is a community organization that works to empower parents and address systemic racism in minority communities. This past February, they gave a presentation to the school board to address parent’s concerns. Many parents who brought up issues with their schools faced retaliation, including being denied access to speaking with their children’s schools. When trying to enforce and advocate for their child’s constitutional right to education, minority parents are silenced, dismissed, and ignored.

“Choose not to look, however, at your own peril. The owner of an old house knows that whatever you are ignoring will never go away. Whatever is lurking will fester whether you choose to look or not. Ignorance is no protection from the consequences of inaction.” – Isabel Wilkerson

Black Lives Matter. Black Students Matter.


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