Three New Orleans schools face civil rights complaints

Kari Harden | 5/2/2014, 11:34 a.m.

At Carver Collegiate, the family handbook describes in great detail precisely how students should walk, talk, dress, sit, raise their hand, and move their eyes.

Volume levels at lunch are hushed (level 2), and silent in the hallways (level 0).

Demerits are given if a student does not lock their elbow while raising their hand, does not smile while shaking hands, does not walk on the taped line in the hallway, does not track the speaker with their eyes, or if both feet are not flat on the floor while seated.

The handbook instructs “scholars” to always be grateful: “Scholars say ‘Thank you’ when they receive something — even the opportunity of being called upon to answer a question during a class.” And how to answer questions: “If you ask a scholar, ‘Did you have a nice weekend?’ a scholar will respond, ‘It was nice. How was yours?’”

According to the handbook: “If a scholar is passing an adult in the hallway, he or she should make eye contact with the adult and smile.”

A student can receive a demerit if she or he has on more than one bracelet, if the bracelet is not green, orange, white, gold, silver, or black, or for wearing a belt that is made of cloth rather than of leather or a material resembling leather.

“If the scholar cannot get the proper uniform piece dropped-off and they refuse to wear loaner items they will be suspended from school the following day,” the handbook says.

And there is the (often subjective) demerit for acting in any way deemed disrespectful.

Accumulated demerits lead to suspensions, and Carver Collegiate has the city’s highest out-of-school suspension rate at 68.85 percent, meaning that nearly 70 percent of the student body was suspended out of school at least once during the 2012-2013 school year.

The state average for out-of-school suspensions is 9.2 percent, which is higher than the national average.

Any faculty member, including first-year teachers without a degree in education, has the authority to suspend a student with requiring another level of approval.

But Carver Collegiate is not a military academy and it’s not an alternative school — it’s a public (charter) high school.

And these aren’t bad kids, they are just kids.

To some, it’s seen as structure and grooming. But to others, the “hyper-discipline” is seen as oppressive, irrational, belittling, and even abusive.

On April 15, New Orleans attorneys Anna Lellelid and Bill Quigley filed a civil rights complaint on behalf of parents and students requesting local, state, and federal investigations into three schools, including Carver Collegiate, regarding discipline policies and culture they allege to be abusive and in violation of the law.

“I’ve heard from students who say they feel so depressed to be treated this way, but they feel they can’t speak out because they will get in trouble,” said Anna Lellelid.

The complaint “demanded an immediate investigation into whether students were subjected to emotional and physical abuse under the guise of ‘discipline,”’ according to a press release.