Kathy Riedlinger: Resign
Kathy Riedlinger: Resign
Why this petition matters
Dear Kathy Riedlinger,
This is an open letter from community stakeholders of Lusher School. For over 20 years, parents, families and students have addressed you directly in asking to change the name of Lusher Charter School (LCS). As you have known since joining the school in 1981, our school’s name uplifts the legacy of Robert Mills Lusher. Lusher, as you are well aware, was a renowned segregationist, state commissioner and tax collector for the Confederate government, and a staunch white supremacist Superintendent of Education.
In June of 2020, a small group of alumni created an anonymous reporting system to document incidents of bias at LCS. As alumni ourselves, we had each witnessed incidents of overwhelming racism being perpetuated and eventually swept under the rug while enrolled at LCS. Many of us thought we were prepared for what LCS students and families would have to report. We were wrong.
The group received stories of policing Black children and their bodies, rampant Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, countless examples of racist teachers being reported and maintaining employment with the school, curriculums glorifying histories of enslavement, white students using racial slurs and promptly being sent back to class, administrators targeting BIPOC students, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities—sometimes actively excluding them from admission. These stories were published for community transparency and accountability on Instagram using the account @PrideofLusher.
In his own autobiography, Robert Mills Lusher urged police juries to support the “thorough education of white children, in rural Louisiana, so that they would be properly prepared to maintain the Supremacy of the white race...” Pride of Lusher organizers were horrified to receive so many reports of bias that fall directly in line with this legacy.
Ms. Riedlinger, this all happened on your watch and with no closure for the victims or accountability from your administration. To have allowed such harmful things to happen to your students on a daily basis and for so many years is unforgivable.
We are coming to the close of July, 2021. After a year of student, family, and alumni organizing and feedback, the LCS board (Advocates for Arts Based Education) has still not made a straightforward commitment to change the name of the school program itself, despite all three campuses being renamed by NOLA-PS. On February 6th, the AABE Board held a public meeting that was severely disappointing, highlighting the school leadership’s lack of commitment to a transparent, accountable process for addressing both the name change and the internal culture of white supremacy.
Despite the AABE Board and your, Ms. Riedlinger, long term resistance to changing the name of the school program, often citing the fact that NOLA-PS will eventually address changing school facility names honoring white supremacists, a charter organization can change its school program name at any time. As one NOLA-PS board member confirmed: “Charter organizations may change the name of their program by submitting a "nonmaterial amendment" to the superintendent in writing. This nonmaterial amendment must include a copy of the resolution passed by the charter board. Thus, any school that wishes to change their name can do so as soon as their next board meeting.”
Most recently, NOLA.com has published letters from former high school principal, Dr. Steven Corbett, to the Advocates for Arts Based Education highlighting many of the racist and classist statements and actions that you have made just in the past year alone. Dr. Corbett’s letters chronicle how you have lied to board members, faculty, and staff; manipulated LCS faculty and students; changed school policies to favor white students; interfered in an investigation about your misconduct; and been racist towards children and adults alike. These letters only serve a small snapshot of what your leadership has looked like in the past 40 years. There are so many more incidents untold of your blatant racism and manipulation. LCS students and parents deserve so much better, and we unequivocally agree with Dr. Corbett as he wrote that he, “[has] lost all faith in Ms. Riedlinger’s ability to be truthful or conduct herself in an ethical manner.”
So, Ms. Riedlinger, you could have chosen to change the name when Black parents specifically asked for it pre-Katrina. You could have changed the name and reviewed the racist, classist policies thirteen months ago when 7,184 people signed a petition demanding you do so. You could have even started addressing these problems in the full year since your own students garnered national attention by holding a rally to assert that Black students matter, their continued experiences of prejudice in the halls of LCS are unacceptable, and that the name change is well overdue.
As such, we alumni are releasing the following list of demands:
1. Kathy Riedlinger, it is time to resign. We have witnessed your inaction for decades. You have upheld white supremacy in your leadership at this school. We have so many reports of you actively thwarting community growth that we say without hesitation: it is time to go.
2. We demand the board create a hiring committee with community stakeholders (parents, teachers, current students, and alumni) to select a new CEO: a New Orleanian who understands the importance and urgency of creating a safe, equitable environment for historically marginalized students that celebrates the beautiful history of the New Orleans community.
3. Cease production of materials bearing the name of Robert Mills Lusher, immediately. Release an open and transparent plan to rename the school program. We recommend the creation of a Renaming Committee involving parents, current students, alumni, teachers, and school community members.
4. Allow alumni to elect two graduates of LCS to serve on the Advocates for Arts Based Education Board for the next term and beyond.
5. Hire an outside organization, preferably local, like Beloved Community, to perform an equity audit of the school and create a plan for moving forward with sustainable, clear changes to shift toward a culture of accountability and inclusion.
6. Host annual mandatory antiracist training for teachers, personnel, PTSA, board members, and faculty. We suggest seeking support from long-standing community stakeholders doing this work like The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.
7. Establish and evaluate processes for addressing racist actions and practices in the LCS community. Students, faculty, and staff affected by racist actions and policing within the school should be offered transformative justice or restorative justice practices, like reconciliation circles, to repair the harm caused and get their needs met. We suggest working with a Black-led organization in New Orleans like the Center for Restorative Approaches to both host these transformative practices and train interested youth in facilitating these circles themselves.
8. Create a fund for the Black Student Union and other cultural organizations, taking a small percentage of the voluntary “enrichment fee” that so many families are convinced to pay at full price. We must invest in Black and Brown youth to make an equitable school.
We know this work will take time. Our school deserves leadership that will take the time to do it right.
We are making these demands and presenting you with tangible solutions because we care about the LCS community. As New Orleanians ourselves, many of whom are setting down roots in this city, we talk sometimes about if we would send our own children to this school. We want to be able to say yes to that question.
We must move LCS away from a “nice” culture where white families and perspectives are centered and “harmony” is prioritized, and instead move to a culture of accountability. We must create a school culture where radical honesty and productive conflict are centered and the voices of marginalized people in the community are prioritized.
We are with you in a spirit of solidarity and a spirit of accountability.
- Kathy Riedlinger
- Advocates for Arts Based Education
- George Wilson
- KiKi Huston
- Rachel Wisdom