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The Southern Poverty Law Center joins the fight to save some Jefferson Parish schools

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) — Parents, students, community activists and others who have spoken out against the proposed closure of some Jefferson Parish schools have a prominent new supporter. The Southern Poverty Law Center sent a letter to the school board asking them to postpone a vote on the school closures consolidation plan.

Washington Elementary is one of the schools that would be closed if the school board approved a plan its counselor offered last week.

Pastor Kaseem Short leads the Thomas United Methodist Church near the school.

“Thomas United Methodist Church is one block from Washington Elementary and we are very concerned about the closure of Washington Elementary,” Short said.

He says the school has a proven track record.

“They’ve produced from judges to lawyers to singers to musicians to doctors,” Short said. “This is a school that has produced and continues to produce giants in our community. Their test scores have gone up, their enrollment has actually gone up and we are so excited about the future of Washington and now we are in this place where they are trying to house our school.”

A school board adviser recommends closing eight schools, five on Jefferson Parish’s west bank and three on the east bank.

Lauren Winkler is an attorney with the SPLC.

“Black students attend a lot more than white students, in most cases it’s almost seven to one, so closing these schools is having a disproportionate impact on black students in Jefferson Parish,” Winkler said.

The school board was scheduled to vote on the plan on Wednesday (April 5). And opponents said they wanted to show up in large numbers.

Debra Houston Edwards, a retired Jefferson Parish School district administrator who attended Washington Elementary, said they would offer free transportation to residents who wanted to attend the meeting and make their voices heard.

“We offer free bus service to the school board office,” Edwards said.

She and others believe the nearly 90-year-old school deserves to stay open.

“To preserve Washington, not just to make some changes, to pull back a few lines so the kids closest to us can go to school and to help our school board members understand that when you’re special, unique Allow circumstances for Grand Isle, down the bayou, then you can do the same for South Kenner because we have unique circumstances in our history, in the services we offer and in our community contribution,” Edwards said.

She said Grand Isle School is able to accommodate many more students than it has been doing and Washington Elementary is thriving.

The SPLC sent a letter to the school board urging its members not to vote on the counselor’s recommendations.

“I’m not sure if the community’s input really got taken into account. I think if that were the case, the school board wouldn’t be voting tonight,” Winkler said.

The letter says “The potential ramifications of this proposed decision are profound, particularly for black communities. Under a settlement agreement that ended a decade-long desegregation order, such a hasty decision would not have been permissible in less than 10 days.”

Winkler believes that with the desegregation now in effect, the school district is attempting to make a consistent decision without properly weighing the implications.

“What is worrying is that now that there is no settlement, there are no safeguards to ensure that students of color, in particular, are not negatively impacted by school district decisions about funding and attendance zones that these changes are now putting on the table in a way that makes a decision very quickly while being very dismissive of community input,” she said.

Ralph Brandt is the current president of the school board.

“I think the plan as a whole, you know, has some very solid merits, but I’m still listening. People come up to me and bring up legitimate points, but at the end of the day we’ll have to see where the vote takes us,” Brandt said.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New Orleans said: “While overall Catholic schools have remained somewhat stable in enrollment, there has been no increase in overall enrollment. “

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