The Lusher Charter School Board voted Thursday night to begin the process of renaming the school, following the Orleans Parish School Board and other local charter boards in removing names associated with school segregation and Confederation.
The K-12 school is named after Robert Mills Lusher, a Confederate official during the Civil War, who went on to serve as the state superintendent of education and was a strong supporter of school segregation.
Thursday’s vote will only begin the name change process. The board of directors does not yet have an alternate name in mind. For now, the name Lusher will remain. After a 90-minute closed-door session with no public debate, the board chair appointed a five-person panel to present three name change options to the board by November.
Lusher – which was founded as an elementary school in 1917 – became a charter school the year after Hurricane Katrina, when charter schools began to replace traditional schools run by the New Brunswick District. Orleans.
The Orleans Parish School Board has already changed the name of the old Lusher building, which is owned by the district and houses Lusher Elementary School, to Dr. Everett J. Williams, Jr., the city’s first black superintendent of the city’s public school system. The Lusher High School campus, named in honor of Alcee Fortier who was also a supporter of segregation, was renamed in honor of Elijah Brimmer, Jr., who was the longtime group principal of school.
The Lusher building was one of a number buildings belonging to the district that the OPSB recently renamed because they were named after a slave owner, separatist, or segregationist – a categorization that requires them to be renamed under a board policy adopted last year. (The council also renamed the old high school building Alcee Fortier, which now houses Lusher’s middle and high school.) The wording for the policy was proposed in June 2020, as a wave of protests swept through the country following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted this summer.
But – the policy only applies to school buildings belonging to the Orléans Parish School Board. While in traditional school districts the names of schools and buildings are the same, NOLA public schools are made up entirely of independent charter schools, which operate under their own names. This leaves individual program name changes – like Lusher’s – to their appointed independent school boards.
Thursday’s meeting began with an executive session – excluding parents and community members and frustrating members of the public. Counsel for the board, James Brown, streamlined the board’s move to an executive session, citing the state attorney general’s office, who said public councils can meet behind closed doors to consult their lawyers on legal issues. This is due to attorney-client privilege, which is recognized in the Louisiana Evidence Code.
“Because attorney-client privilege is statutory in Louisiana and is a matter provided for by the legislature that is a qualifying basis for having an executive session to receive advice from legal counsel,” he said.
Several parents and community members questioned the need to discuss the issue behind closed doors.
“You have every right to go to an executive session; However, that doesn’t mean you have to, especially given the importance and passion surrounding the issue, ”parent Kelly McClure wrote in the comments.
“It’s very confusing to me that you’re going to an executive session to talk to each other as this issue came out in the open,” said Erin Greenwald, parent. “It sounds sneaky, which is in keeping with the way this process has unfolded. I encourage you to have this discussion in front of the public.
Counsel for counsel advised otherwise.
“There are legal issues that need to be resolved and my advice to the client is to receive it under solicitor-client privilege,” Brown said.
Parents asked for details on the length of the private session, but council could not provide details. The board met in private for almost 90 minutes.
After the private session, Rachel Wisdom, a board member, made a motion to change the name of the school. The board then took 30 minutes of public comment – all in support of the change.
“I’m glad we’re here. It’s been a long year, ”Wisdom said. “I fully support the advancement of the name change and hope the rest of you will too.”
“I agree,” said Alysia Loshbaugh, board member. “I think there was a part of the population that was hurt when they remembered the history of segregation from the name of the school.”
A grade 11 student identified as Ms. Jackson supported the decision.
“The story of our school and its foundation is heinous and heartbreaking,” she said. “I received an excellent arts education, but I cannot say that it took a toll on my health and that I continued to worry about my safety.
“A white supremist shouldn’t have their name written down in a school,” said one parent.
“Voting to change the name is a first step and an important step in making the school a more inclusive community,” said Greenwald. “Once this step is taken, I hope the board is ready to begin the hard work of combating the toxic culture.”
“It was devastating to lose Dr Corbett as director. Please vote for a name change today, ”said one student.
One parent, who identified himself as a person of color, said his high school students were embarrassed to use the school’s name and his elementary-aged daughter also had questions.
“My second grader keeps asking why the administrators won’t change the school name of someone who didn’t want her in this school,” she said.
The council voted unanimously to change the name of the school.
Board member Alysia Loshbaugh then proposed that a panel be assembled to review the names, collect community feedback and present three potential names to the board by its November meeting.
“There have been rumors that one of these options could be a descendant of Lusher, and I hope the board will ignore that,” said a parent.
With no discussion from board members, President George Wilson has appointed three directors and two board members to the panel that is considering new names.
They will be Executive Director, Planning and Administration, Sheila Nelson, Transition Leader Charlene Hebert, CFO Charmaine Davis and Board members Rachel Wisdom and Gary Solomon.
“This is the group to give to three names to accompany us in this process,” Wilson said.