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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 7, May/June 2006

We need friends

by Sylvia Bishop

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have come and gone. Those shocking live reports and photo images that moved North American TV viewers are gone, yet New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have not fully recovered and continue to face tough challenges to rebuild.

One of the challenges of rebuilding is reopening New Orleans’ public schools. Curtis Mohamed, one of the founders of the People’s Hurricane Relief Oversight Fund based in New Orleans, Louisiana, painted a sorry picture of efforts to reopen public schools in New Orleans. Mohamed opened his speech by saying "We need friends!" He told delegates to the Tri-national Conference on Education in Oaxaca, Mexico, about the situation for public education in New Orleans schools; 102 of 117 schools closed. Of those that have reopened, many are charter schools. In fact, charter schools are big business. The Louisiana Department of Education reports that 44 applications by "quality service providers" were received in a bid to reopen Orleans Parish public schools.

Mohamed also reported on Recovery School Districts. These are school districts with a minimum of four public schools that fail to meet state standards. These schools are taken over by the state and charter school companies are invited to reopen them. Delegates were shocked to learn that in many instances teachers’ benefits were taken away, and contracts torn up. Teachers who are rehired by these charter school agencies, sign a confidentiality agreement, preventing them from disclosing their salaries and working conditions. Teachers cannot even return to their old hurricane-damaged schools to claim their personal items including learning resources to help them teach in their new schools.

Sylvia Bishop is an assistant director, BCTF Communications and Campaigns Division.

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