NSNO’s Spring Legislative Wrap-up
Every year, our state legislature takes up the monumental task of creating the laws that guide and govern all people in our state. We acknowledge their tireless dedication to representing the people who elect them.
At NSNO, policy is one of our priorities. We want to ensure that state policy preserves autonomy, accountability, and equity in our schools. We want our students to get an excellent education and to feel valued, loved, and supported by their schools.
The 2021 Regular Session was difficult and tense, to say the least. Race played a particularly large role in the session. Bills preventing natural hair discrimination ultimately failed to pass, and criminal justice reform legislation brought the impact of racism in our state and country to the fore.
Certain legislators also introduced two bills with the power to deeply hurt young people throughout the state. These bills targeted transgender youth and the ability of schools to teach about race and gender. These bills were shaped, in part, by national politics and mirrored bills throughout the country. We fought to change or stop them.
House Bill 564 (HB 564):
NSNO took a firm stand against HB 564, which sought to limit education around certain issues of race and sex in our schools, such as the existence of systemic racism, sexism, and oppression. We believed it was harmful to our students and infringed on the autonomy of our schools.
Children must receive a full understanding of our nation’s history and its present condition; racism and misogyny are undeniable parts of that. So many of our students directly experience these ills in their own lives; they were well aware of injustices before they learned about them in their classrooms.
NSNO knows our children are more than capable of discussing complex topics; in fact, they’re brilliant problem solvers. They do not shy away from difficult realities; they work for better ones. Our best hope for fighting racism and misogyny is in their hands.
To fight this bill, NSNO wrote a letter to the House Committee on Education in vehement opposition. Many of New Orleans’ charter leaders, school leaders, and advocacy partners joined us and signed on. We also provided communications support to other organizations as they expressed their own opposition. Our CEO, Patrick, then testified at the bill’s hearing.
We were relieved and grateful when the bill was voluntarily withdrawn in the face of significant backlash. For now, the ability of our schools to teach their students the truth about these important issues and the impact of racism and misogyny on our nation is intact.
Senate Bill 156 (SB 156): Transgender Students’ Athletic Opportunities
One important bill we advocated against, however, SB 156, unfortunately passed. In the end, the Governor vetoed it, but there is a chance the legislature will call a special session to override that veto.
SB 156 would prohibit trans girls from participating on girls’ sports teams. This bill is discriminatory, with no basis in science. Fighting it is a matter of equity, fairness, and protecting the physical and mental health of our children.
New Orleans’ school sports teams are a part of the fabric of our city. This bill would infringe on schools’ autonomy by prohibiting them from allowing all students to have the athletic opportunities they deserve—as well as the joy, fitness, and community that come with them.
Trans advocates have spoken out against the harm SB 156 would cause. They spoke of the psychological distress and emotional toll it takes to be declared “dangerous,” or to be forced to use the locker room that does not match their gender. They spoke of the importance of feeling included and being part of a team.
We were not alone in our support for our trans students. Many LGBTQ groups locally and nationally advocated against the bill; Governor Edwards and the National College Athletic Association have spoken out against it as well.
Like the “divisive concepts” bill, NSNO wrote and submitted a letter to the Senate Committee on Education opposing the bill; again, we gathered and included signatures from charter leaders, school leaders, and advocacy partners.
While the bill was ultimately passed by the legislature, NSNO sent a letter to the governor asking him to veto it. On Tuesday, June 22, he did so. Unfortunately, legislators have threatened an override of that veto through a special session.
House Bill 411 (HB 411):
Revision of State Discipline Law
We also advocated for an amendment to HB 411 that preserves an important source of autonomy and equity in New Orleans schools in regards to discipline. This bill, which unified discipline policies across the state and would override New Orleans’ unique disciplinary procedure, would likely have increased expulsions in our city.
We believe that expelling a child from school is truly a last resort. Students deserve to be in school. We know that young people make mistakes and we believe in helping them learn and move forward while ensuring a calm, welcoming, safe and secure learning environment for all.
New Orleans has a centralized expulsion process. Following its creation in 2012, expulsions dropped significantly. The centralized office means that all students across our city follow the same procedures and are seen by the same hearing board, no matter what school they attend. Unlike the state policy, New Orleans has no mandatory expulsions for specific offenses and shorter expulsion term lengths.
This fosters equity by ensuring schools are unified with the same policies, also serving as a check against any one school trying to expel large numbers of students. This is reflected in our expulsion rate; just .01% of Orleans Parish students are expelled – the equivalent of 50 students out of 50,000, compared to .07% in Jefferson Parish, East Baton Rouge, Caddo Parish, and the state at-large.
This bill would have required public charter schools to comply with the same expulsion rules as traditional public schools, which would mean our unified expulsion policy would no longer exist and serve its purpose.
NSNO coordinated with the bill’s author, Rep. Jason Hughes, the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, the current and former chairs of the Student Behavior and Discipline Taskforce, and NOLA-PS to draft and adopt an amendment that would exclude New Orleans from being required to comply with the state statute on student expulsions.
The bill was passed by the legislature, and we are pleased that it includes our amendment. It was recently signed by the Governor.
Children’s educators and peers play the largest role in shaping their school experience, but policy and politics have a great influence, too. We are pleased by the passage of HB411 with its amendment, and heartened that HB564 was withdrawn. We are deeply concerned by the passage of SB156, grateful for Governor Edwards’ response, and watching for the potential override of that veto. Our collective efforts provide just a few examples of how much collaboration matters. While we all have our roles to play, there is truly strength in numbers.
Policy will continue to matter deeply for our education system. Upcoming elections are more important than ever to reverse the dangerous trends we saw this session, from the Mayoral and City Council races this year, to the next legislative session in 2022. Though it is not an elected position, we will also have a new superintendent after Superintendent Lewis’ term ends in June 2022, as he has decided not to seek renewal of his contract.
The votes we cast and the advocacy we engage in will shape these leaders’ decisions, and ultimately, our students’ lives. Our young people are eager to be the policymakers of tomorrow. We must provide them with the empowering, supportive, and rigorous education that will prepare them for those roles today.