Survivors Council to Open Lawless High School. Residents and Volunteers Face Down Cops and School Officials

On Thursday, March 8, residents and volunteers working with the New Orleans Survivor Council faced off against the Recovery School District (RSD). The NOSC had previously decided to reopen the public school system themselves, because the city has taken public education out of New Orleans. They are targeting mainly poor black communities, and particularly the Lower Ninth Ward and the area around the C.J. Peete public housing development.

As a result of NOSC pressure, Martin Luther King elementary school will be reopened soon in the Lower Ninth, but residents are not happy about the fact that it is reopening as a charter school. People need to know that all of their children are guaranteed to be able to attend school in order for them to move back home. Charter schools choose their students.

So a few weeks ago, the Survivor Council decided to reopen Lawless High School, also in the Lower Ninth, and Tom Lafon near C.J. Peete, as public schools. Student volunteers have been cleaning Lawless out for the past week. This week, students from Wilberforce and FAMU were in the building, cleaning and salvaging usable educational materials, when the RSD sent contractors to the school. The contractors demanded to know who had authorized the students to work. They answered, “the New Orleans Survivor Council authorized us; this is their school, and we’re cleaning and reopening it.”

The contractors revealed that they had been hired to clear out the “full contents” of the school, throw them away, and prepare the school for demolition! The second floor of the building had computers, books, software still in its original wrappings, and other salvageable materials. At schools that have been designated as “full content” schools, contractors are instructed to throw away all the contents of the school. Nearly all of the schools designated as “full content” schools are in poor, black neighborhoods. Other schools are designated “partial content” schools, and in those, contents are salvaged.

Since both the volunteers and the hired contractors were under instructions to clean out the school, the POC organizers proposed that they all work together. An agreement was worked out whereby the RSD contractors would work on the first floor, where everything needed to be thrown out, and the NOSC volunteers would work on the second floor and continue to salvage materials. However, then the contractors added “you have one day.” After that, they said, the students would be in the way and would have to go.

The volunteers responded that they planned to stay until they got the job done, and added that if anyone started tearing the building down, the students would get in their way. When the contractors reiterated their demand that the students leave the following day, POC and the Survivor Council decided to pull out all the stops. That night, they called residents and the press.

The next day (Thursday), nearly a dozen residents donned protective clothing to join twenty students in cleaning out the school. The press watched as the students, many of them having done a quick orientation in civil disobedience, prepared to be arrested if necessary, alongside residents who were not about to back down on their goal of opening a high school for their children.

Looking for a response, the press called RSD officials on the phone. The officials asked where the things taken out of the school were, and residents responded that they had salvaged it, because the RSD was going to trash useful materials and equipment. The RSD then decided that they did not want the publicity that would come from calling police to arrest residents and their volunteers cleaning out their own school, and finally said they would meet with NOSC to discuss the reopening of Lawless School!

After the experience of MLK School, residents don’t have confidence in the RSD to look out for their interests, but they knew they had won at least a temporary victory that day. The next day, they sent another team into Tom Lafon School so that residents determined to reoccupy C.J. Peete would also have a school to send their kids to.