An Update From New Orleans

Dec 23, 2014
Originally published on December 24, 2014 1:34 am

NPR Ed is updating readers on some of the top stories we've been following in 2014.

All this year, NPR Ed has been exploring the dramatic changes to the New Orleans school system, where more than nine out of ten children attend charter schools, most run by the state Recovery School District.

This month that number went down a bit. Dr. King Charter School, a K-12 charter school in the lower Ninth Ward, voted to return to local school board control. It became the first state-run charter school to do so since Hurricane Katrina shook up the school system nine years ago.

As the Times-Picayune reported, 36 takeover schools were eligible to return to district control this year, but 35 voted not to. The Orleans Parish School Board has been without a permanent superintendent for two and a half years--although that may be ending soon.

Also in New Orleans education news recently, a group of special education students have reached a settlement with state and local education authorities. Their class action suit alleged that the students did not receive appropriate accommodation in the upheaval of post-Katrina New Orleans, and that at some schools, children with severe diagnoses faced illegally harsh punishment.

Crystal Walker, a mother of three children with various learning and other disabilities, told NPR Ed's Eric Westervelt that their charter school is less than accommodating.

"They wanted for me to just remove my children," Walker says, "because they felt as though they didn't need to make the accommodations for them."

The terms of the new settlement are intended to ensure that children aged 3-21 with disabilities don't fall through the cracks whether they are court-involved; hospitalized; or elsewhere. Services for appraising students and creating and fulfilling treatment plans will be evaluated as a condition of charter schools remaining authorized to run. Charter schools will be randomly monitored.

In other post-Katrina legal news, the State Supreme Court dismissed a class action suit for wrongful termination by thousands of New Orleans school employees who were pink-slipped after the hurricane. In doing so, the court overturned two lower court rulings. The teachers plan to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And a bright spot: Louisiana became one of 18 states to get federal grants to expand access to preschool. The $32 million grant was announced December 10 at the White House Summit on Early Education.

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