Wednesday, May 02, 2007


My daughter is friends with a charming girl named Hannah. They go to the same school, Lusher Charter School. Hannah is 11 years old, certified as academically gifted, and has been at Lusher since kindergarten. Recently Hannah's mother received a letter from Lusher saying that Hannah won't be allowed to return to Lusher next year. Hannah is dyslexic, dysgraphic, and has inattention ADD. She has a 504 plan in place but her teachers have done none of the things to help her as outlined in her 504 plan. Hannah is of course depressed about this. She feels that she can't continue in school with her friends because she has bad grades and a learning disability. Her parents don't know what to do. They tell Hannah that bad grades and learning disabilities don't define her as a person. They can't afford private schools, her bad grades and learning disabilities might prevent her from being accepted at another charter school, and the quality of education at an RSD school is horrendous.

Of course Lusher's actions in regards to Hannah are immoral and unethical, but you would think they would also be illegal. Hannah's mother has researched section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and she understands it to read that charter schools in New Orleans are exempt from its provisions until the city is "fully repopulated." There are many ways to interpret "fully repopulated," so it could go on indefinitely.

There are hundreds of children in New Orleans with stories similar to Hannah's. Some are even more dramatic and tragic. I volunteer every Friday at John Dibert Elementary, an RSD school in my neighborhood. Last Friday I was in a 5th grade classroom, and the teacher showed me psychological histories of the students. Several of them had witnessed relatives drown in the flood. One girl's mother drowned while she was holding her mom's hand as they tried to wade and swim to dry land. It sickens me to think about how my government took a parent away from these kids, and continues to fail them by not giving them a first-rate education.

Instead the powers that be claim that charter schools are the answer to all of our education problems in New Orleans. There are rumors that Paul Vallas will replace Robin Jarvis as the superintendent of the Recovery School District. Vallas is a big fan of charter schools, as is his boss Paul Pastorek and many on the BESE board. And it seems likely at this point that Bobby Jindal will be our next governor. He seems to support privatizing everything to reduce the size of government, and this would include schools. But with the privatization of our schools, the number of stories like Hannah's will increase, and that is not acceptable.

It is my lofty goal to get a competant and qualified group elected to the Orleans Parish School Board in Fall 2008, and then to get control of all of our schools back away from the state and into the hands of a new and improved Orleans School Board. And I'm still waiting for my elected school board representative Una Anderson to meet with me and few other neighborhood education leaders from her district to chat. Come on Una, talk to me...

note: much of the info regarding Hannah came from the comments section of my previous post.


Blogger Maitri V-R said...

Good one, Michael, will pass it on.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Jon said...

If New Orleans believes that privatization is the only possible solution, Hannah's parents might want to try this. My friend's daughter is severely dyslexic. They were able to bring pressure on the San Francisco school district that got her sent to an extremely expensive private school for dyslexic children. Apparently, the district felt that this would be cheaper than accommodating her "in house". This was not my friend's goal. They wanted her to attend a multicultural urban school, not a suburban private school. Still, the school did a good job. She is a freshman at Arizona State, which has a state of the art program for dyslexic students.

Good luck reforming the NO schools. You might want to read up on last year's mayoral election in Newark, NJ. The 'reform' candidate had massive financial backing from right wing interests who were seeking to decertify the city's public schools. He had run previously against the old line Democratic machine candidate. He lost that election, but won on his second try, after the old mayor retired. He was able to put himself across as a liberal, in part because the schools were in such desperate shape that almost anything would appear to be an improvement.

I haven't had time to follow his career since the election, but I can provide links on some of the foundations who are funding school privatization. There is nothing nice about those people, and they are throwing lots of money into local elections.

10:59 PM  
Blogger Terri said...

That was wonderful; I know a lot of people read your blog; thank you for letting them know what's going on here. I do have to qualify the letter from Lusher - it said that Hannah will 'likely' not be allowed to return. We haven't given up, but are weighing our options. I'm paying close attention to others' suggestions and experiences - none of us is as smart as all of us . . . .

12:20 AM  
Anonymous Karen said...

Perhaps we need to force the issue with the National Media.

As parents we are on the Razors Edge here. We are all on the cusp of academic crisis with our own children and most certainly with the Children of our Larger Community.

Things have not improved, in fact they are worse.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Terri said...

Met with Lusher today regarding the incendiary letter about Hannah's grade level promotion and retention status at Lusher. My husband and I have been asked to trust them that this will work out for Hannah; told to relax, that the determination isn't final until after final grades, and that we can then appeal to a retention committee if she is tossed out. I can't tell if we've overreacted, or if this is meant to placate us until the school year is over. We were told that in spite of the letter we received, she will go on to 7th grade. The admin. we talked to seemed surprised that the coordinator who handles the kids with 504 exceptions has never talked to us (almost as surprised as we were to find out they HAD one), nor has Hannah had her IEP (for her gifted academic status) reports. I thought it was an upper school thing, but apparently they should have been coming home all along. So I don't have much choice but to to try to calm down for the next few weeks, and see if we can, indeed, trust them with Hannah's immediate academic future. Patience is not my strong suit.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Michael Homan said...

Terri, that sounds like good news, that Hannah will be allowed to continue at Lusher next year. I wish Lusher had this meeting with you nine months ago. Keep us posted. Also, someone who works at Children's Hospital who knows some resources called me and left her number for you. Call me at 377 7284 and I'll relay the information to you.

3:17 PM  
Anonymous Advisor said...

Terri, maybe, just maybe, it would be in your best interest (mostly your daughter's) to move out of the city. The New Orleans schools are going to be a mess for a while, and while it is a noble deed to try to fix, it isn't going to happen soon. Relocation may be the best thing you could ever do for your daughter's education. Yeah it may be unfair and you feel you shouldn't have to, but really think about it. What is more important to you, your daughter's education or the education of all of New Orleans?

Living here is going to be tough for a while, regular families are going to struggle. If you have a special needs family it will be even tougher. Please consider all of your options, even some that you may not like, for the sake of your daughter.

Best of luck and may God guide you.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Michael Homan said...

Wow. Advisor's comment disturbed me on several levels, one of which is that maybe he/she is offering good advice. There must come a point at which it is time to quit fighting what seems at times like an impossible fight and to move on. There are many places in the world where today nobody thought of Hurricane Katrina, poor public schools, corruption and incompetancy. Therese and I have talked about how if we knew in September of 2005 how difficult all of this would be, we would have not returned to Louisiana. I'm currently addicted to the struggle, but I don't consider my addiction to be healthy. It's more like Sisyphus. If I were more intelligent perhaps I'd leave immediately.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Terri said...

Well said. We struggle with whether our desire to stay in New Orleans is going to turn out to be a negative or a positive thing for our kids. Our middle child, a tenth-grader this year, is flourishing, and will be teaching in a summer program at Newman for underpriveleged fifth graders this year, so doing well AND giving back. And Hannah . . . I don't know what I'd be teaching her if we said, ok, the deck is stacked against us, so we're going to pull up stakes and leave. I think we owe her more than that. It's not the kind of family we are, and not the kind of person I hope any of my daughters will become.

8:58 PM  
Anonymous PZ said...

You would definitely think this should be illegal.

I am also not convinced so many people have 'learning disabilities' as is currently claimed. What if they are just distracted or not school- oriented, or haven't figured out how to study, or as people have already suggested, have life issues which need to be dealt with first? What if school is just not their strongest suit? It doesn't mean they are defective, or that they don't deserve an education !!!

4:50 PM  
Blogger G Bitch said...

You're right, pz, but in this environment, not being "school-oriented" gets no sympathy, no hearing, no legitimacy. If the charters were real charter schools, alternatives to the traditional classroom, it wouldn't be such a problem.

7:38 PM  
Blogger Terri said...

An update: After all the school meetings, where it was impressed upon me continually to 'trust them' to do the right thing, I decided to lay low 'til final grades came out. We received them in the mail yesterday, and Hannah is being 'retained' at Lusher, and going on to the 7th grade, but on academic probation. I wonder how many new 7th graders will be starting off the school year in the fall on academic probation? She's still on the waiting list at another charter school, one we think would greatly improve her learning situation, but it's a gamble. Thank you again, so much, for your support of her. Enjoy the summer!

1:27 PM  
Anonymous James said...

What ever happened to Hanna? With all Lusher's resources, one would think they could help.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Michael Homan said...

I saw Hanna about a week ago at the crawfish boil. She seems to be doing well, and she's still at Lusher. I don't know the specifics, but I believe that Lusher has done right by her.

10:11 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home