Filed Under:  Education, Local, News, Regional, State

About Town…La. educational officials ‘dismiss’ dead children

28th May 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Libba and Hy McEnery run a small, Christian outreach program, ministering to African-American teenagers of Pigeon Town, the area stretching from Oak Street to Hollygrove. And, they have watched several of “their kids” die over the last several years. Mainly because these children lack a neighborhood school to attend. Any school, RSD or Charter.

The McEnerys tried to explain the extent of the problem at a House hearing on May 18, dealing with the state of the RSD, only to be first dissembled and then to be greeted with disinterest by allies of Piyush Jindal’s Department of Education.

Neighborhood violence has spiked post-Katrina, according to Elizabeth “Libba” McEnery, in large part because children, forced out of the Charter School and/or the RSD system, literally have no place to go—save to the streets. For her and her husband, whose ministry owns two homes in the neighborhood, where they feed, hold bible studies, and life skills outreach for these young people, the effect of so many children be­ing forced from a school environment prematurely has been to almost destroy a generation.

Libba and Hy McEnery are far from educational radicals. They are Caucasian, registered Republicans, who simply maintain that they have seen firsthand the impact of the RSD’s, La. Superintendent John White’s, and the Jindal Administration’s lack of policy for children expelled or without a place in the Charter School Sys­tem. So, when Libba McEnery ap­peared before on a meeting of House Education Committee to testify in support for Represen­tative John Bel Edwards’ House Bill 703.

The legislation would require a student entering Kindergarten be zoned for a public school with a D, or F letter grade in order to be eligible for the Louisiana Scholarship (Voucher) Program. In other words, it would limit participation to the students most in need of access to private or parochial schools, because adequate schooling does not exist in their neighborhoods. (Currently, students entering kindergarten only have to meet income requirements.)

Libba McEnery testified on the plight of children who lack access to a school in their neighborhood. She talked of deaths, murder, and dislocation, and the need to give preference to the disadvantaged children. Yet, the inner-city missionary was shocked when Jindal Administration officials attempted to paint the plight of these kids as essentially irrelevant.

As she explained in an interview with The Louisiana Weekly, “After my heart-felt request for the approval of the bill I sat down and others came forward to oppose the bill. One who opposes the bill, Ms. [Veronica] Brooks, took my true story of highly impoverished teenaged boys being pushed out of charter schools only to become either victims or perpetrators of violent crimes, some even being murdered, and injected her own story, with tears.”

The problem was that Brooks, the Policy Director for the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, was trying to change the subject in a highly emotional display. As Mrs. McEnery continued, “I was not referring to the three boys shot by an adult in New Orleans last week, though she insisted I was. The boys I knew and referred to were murdered over the last seven or eight years. They were pushed out of New Orleans RSD charter high schools. There was no follow up by a local School Board and their guardians were not able to get them enrolled in another school so they ended up on the streets. Ms. Brooks may be new to New Orleans. She may have never had experiences in our most im­poverished neighborhoods. I invite her, or any one of you, to work with us in those neighborhoods for a year or two — or for a week — or for a day.”

“Please come with me as I drive my ministry kids home late at night and go inside their homes with me to meet and get to know their families. Please go with me to their funerals and to their repasts. Please talk with their moms or their Grandmothers or their big sisters who are raising them and find out why their boys and girls sometimes do not re-enroll in school after being pushed out of a charter school.”

“Please hear them tell you, in their tears, about their historic neighborhood public schools that no longer exist and how their children are not admitted into the often-selective charter schools that took their places and even their names. And about the well-meaning but very young, inexperienced Teach For America teachers from other states who have replaced our experienced veteran teachers and who have frequent temper tantrums and crying spells in their classrooms.”

“I tried to give this explanation to Ms. Brooks in a letter yesterday just after she spoke. She had Ms. [Stephanie] Desselles [of the Council for a Better Louisiana] return it to me, stating that she [Brooks] did not want to read it. This seems inappropriate for the Director of Louisiana Charter Schools. She should want to know these things. She should want to make appropriate policy changes for charter schools. These are real concerns which Ms. Brooks seems to ignore. Her attitude further supports the experiences of those young people my ministry serves. They are often ignored and have no real system when charter schools push them out. Where is their choice when you grade their public schools out of existence? I could tell you a lot more.”

What particularly wrangled Libba McEnery was that Ms. Brooks’ display came with the insider’s knowledge that New Orleans Charter Schools may soon be under a Justice Department investigation for Civil Rights violations, on this very matter of not providing places for eligible students.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights released what it mandates are “new guidance confirming that the same federal civil rights laws that apply to other public schools apply equally to public charter schools.”

It was a break from the previous Obama Administration policies solely focused on the growth of charter schools through its Race to the Top funding competition. And it was the first major public acknowledgement by the Secretary of Education that serious complaints have emerged from around the country that some charter schools have discriminatory practices in admissions, discipline, and other areas.

And, both Ms. Brooks and La. Superintendent of Education John White had to know about it at the time of the House hearing, McEnery asserted to The Louisiana Weekly. The policy change came days before thanks to a national organization, the Journey for Justice Alliance , filing civil rights complaints with the federal government and asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to investigate “racially discriminatory school closings” in New Orleans.

In their presentation, they presented evidence that charter school growth is leading to increased segregation by race, ethnicity, and income. The complaint came as the nation celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine. McEnery referred to a release by the U.S. Department of Education that actually said, “The new guidance highlights critical subjects that have arisen in charter schools, including the schools’ obligations to avoid discrimination in admissions practices and the administration of discipline; to provide a free appropriate public education for students with disabilities; and to take affirmative steps to assist English learners. The guidance also points to other OCR publications regarding additional civil rights principles that are equally applicable to charter schools.”

That same department release also quotes Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, maintaining, “Charter schools play an important role in the educational landscape and are serving more and more students all over the country. Since our last guidance on the topic in 2000, thousands of new charter schools have opened. This guidance underscores that charter schools must satisfy the requirements of the federal civil rights laws.”

The irony, McEnery charged, was “THEY HAD THIS ON MAY 14,” prior to the La. House hearing on Rep. Edwards’ bill.

This article originally published in the May 26, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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