NEW ORLEANS - The Recovery School District is the center of a federal civil rights complaint.
The complaint alleges the RSD's policies of closing failing schools disproportionately affects black students.
The RSD will become the nation's first all-charter district, once schools like Benjamin Banneker close their doors. It's is one of five remaining conventional public schools run by the RSD that is slated to either close or be converted into charter schools next month.
But some education advocates like Karran Harper Royal allege most of the shuttered schools had a predominantly black student population, while low-performing schools with a higher white population were allowed to stay open.
“Are children of color being forced to travel further to lower performing schools than their white counterparts?” asked Royal.
It's a question Royal hopes federal officials will investigate. She is a member of the Coalition for Community Schools, one of the local groups that filed a federal civil rights complaint against the Recovery School District Tuesday, in conjunction with the Advancement Project and the national Journey for Justice Alliance.
The complaint is aimed at fighting the closure of the five remaining direct-run schools. Royal said once failing schools close, parents are often left in the dark about their higher performing options.
“Finding out what your school options are in this city is a job,” said Royal. “If you are a low-income parent and you are working two to three jobs, you are working during the hours the schools are open, you simply don't have access to as much info as more middle-class families.”
Plus, Royal alleges the RSD allows admissions preference to children who live near two high-performing schools, Hines and Lusher, located in predominantly white neighborhoods. She said the same admissions preferences do not exist for high-performing schools in predominantly black neighborhoods.
“On its face, there is a disparity there,” said Royal.
"Over the last eight years, the schools in New Orleans have made tremendous progress by any academic measure--ACT scores, student achievement, graduation rate. In 2005, over 60 percent of our students attended failing schools. Today only 5 percent of students city-wide attend failing schools. It is critical to insist on the civil rights of every child, and there is no doubt New Orleans is closer to assuring those rights than it was a decade ago," said RSD spokeswoman Zoey Reed in a statement.
Reed added that of the remaining five schools slated to close, all students who applied were accepted to higher-performing schools.
But Royal believes there's more to the story. She believes shuttering failing schools means children who need the most help are scattered to schools around the city and sometimes fall through the cracks.
“We're not paying attention to the children's needs. We are trying to make the numbers work out so we can say we have fewer low performing schools in this city,” said Royal.