Several student groups convened an open forum for candidates running for the local school board.
This gave students an opportunity to question candidates about where they stand on issues that affect students.

Only one candidate did not appear: Sarah Usdin, who confirmed that she would show but did not. Usdin is the ex-TFA executive director of New Schools for New Orleans. She has received more than $110,000 from generous out-of-state donors like Joel Klein, who sells technology for Rupert Murdoch, and assorted Wall Street hedge fund managers who are devoted to charters.

Key points that emerged from the forum:

-Unanimous opposition expressed by candidates regarding the RSD’s method for closing and chartering schools

-All candidates said they believe the fast-track teacher certification programs are insufficient.

-Unanimous opposition from candidates to New Orleans becoming the first all-charter city.

-Unanimous support for comprehensive sex education

-Unanimous support to extracurricular busses so students can participate in after school programs

This is the students’ account of the meeting they organized:

Press Release
For Release on November 1st, 2012
Contact: Jacob Cohen (jacobcohen@vayla-no.org)

Students Grill Orleans Parish School Board Candidates in
First-Ever Student-led Forum

Candidates express strong support for slate of student issues and opposition to fully chartering New Orleans public schools

At 5:30 pm on October 30th, eleven Orleans Parish School Board candidates put themselves in the hot seat Tuesday evening, sitting before a panel of students. Ten students from schools around the city questioned the candidates on issues ranging from bus transportation to school closings. In “lightning rounds,” the youth asked yes or no questions and had the candidates raise a card indicating their response. Several surprise answers came from this format, including broad condemnation of the proposition that New Orleans should become the first city in the United States in which all schools are chartered.

The forum appears to have been the best attended candidate event in this election cycle, with roughly 150 people packing the main hall at the Ashe’ Cultural Arts Center.

One high school student on the panel described his role as the designated interpreter for family members, revealing a serious lack of services for Limited English Proficient households.

Other issues that students and audience members raised include the need for comprehensive sex education; a higher ratio of guidance counselors to students, and the need for certified teachers and ongoing professional development services.

One sore point that students raised also concerned the way that schools have been closed. Bryan Kelso, a sophomore at Reed High School, told the candidates, “it’s a struggle going to a school that may not be there next year or even next semester,” explaining that his school had been labeled a “failure.” In the lightening round that followed, all of the candidates unanimously said they did not support the RSD or BESE’s method for addressing struggling schools through closure and takeover.

Notwithstanding the support expressed by the candidates on nearly all of the issues they raised, students attending the forum questioned the role the Orleans Parish School Board will play in the future. On a handful of the issues, candidates admitted that the board’s power will be limited until Act 35 is overturned. Students also questioned the power that this future board will have in a city dominated by private charter organizations.

Forum organizers also recognize some of the contradictions between the answers candidates gave at the youth-led event and those given at other, adult forums.

Here is the list of questions for the lightening rounds:

TEACHERS: Do you believe that fast track teacher certification programs are providing schools with enough experienced teachers?

[Every candidate said no.]

TRANSPORTATION I: Are you willing to help the school system provide busses for extracurricular activities?

[Every candidate said yes.]

TRANSPORTATION II: Do you believe that every child should have safe, reliable, free transportation options to and from school?

[Every candidate said yes]

DISCIPLINE: Will you support alternatives to zero tolerance school discipline policies and out-of-school suspensions?

[Every candidate said yes but one, who abstained]

SCHOOL CLOSURES: In general, do you support the Recovery School District and BESE’s process for dealing with schools, including closing schools?

[Every candidate said no.]

COUNSELORS: Do you believe, per the American College Counselor Association’s guidelines, that all Orleans Parish schools should have at least one college or guidance counselor for ever 250 students?

[Every candidate said yes.]

SHAMING STUDENTS: Will you support the posting of individual students’ standardized test scores in school hallways and classrooms?

[Every candidate said no.]

LANGUAGE ACCESS: Will you ensure that families have interpretation and translation services at all direct-run and charter schools?

[every candidate said yes or abstained.]

CHARTERS: Should New Orleans become the first district in the country to have 100% of their schools be charter schools.

[Note: no candidate said yes.]

SEX ED: If in compliance with state and BESE board laws, do you support comprehensive sex education in New Orleans public schools?

[Every candidate voted yes, except for two marked "not present"]

A video highlight reel can be accessed at: http://youtu.be/MUSabzsg5ls

Photographs from the event can be accessed at: http://my.slideroll.com/galleries/members/jacobcohen/gallery/my-gallery/?g=by4jfwgw

Photo reel can be embedded on your site by copying:

A transcription of the event and uncut video can be made available upon request