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It is always astonishing to be reminded that the rule of law still exists in Louisiana, despite the authoritarian command of Governor Bobby Jindal.
But it does! Louisiana courts found the funding of the voucher program, using money dedicated to public schools, to be unconstitutional. The courts found Jindal’s law stripping teachers of all legal rights and protections to be unconstitutional because it included too many subjects in one bill.
And now, miracle of miracles, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that 7,000 teachers who were fired after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina were wrongfully terminated and entitled to back wages. The judgement could bankrupt the Orleans Parish Board.
“In a lawsuit that some say could bankrupt the Orleans Parish public school system, an appeals court has decided that the School Board wrongly terminated more than 7,000 teachers after Hurricane Katrina. Those teachers were not given due process, and many teachers had the right to be rehired as jobs opened up in the first years after the storm, the court said in a unanimous opinion.
“The state is partly responsible for damages, according to Wednesday’s ruling from Louisiana’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal. However, its five-judge panel did reduce the potential damages certified by the District Court: Instead of five years of back pay plus fringe benefits, the appeals court awarded the teachers two to three years of back pay, with benefits only for those employees who had participated in them when they were employed.
“During the appeal, lawyers said the damages could amount to $1.5 billion.
“The class-action case applies to all School Board employees who were tenured as of Aug. 29, 2005, the date that Katrina blasted up the Louisiana-Mississippi line and New Orleans levees failed, flooding much of the city. Many employees were members of the United Teachers of New Orleans, but the appeals court ruled that an earlier settlement with the union did not prevent this case from being tried.
“The decision validates the anger felt by former teachers who lost their jobs. It says they should have been given top consideration for jobs in the new education system that emerged in New Orleans in the years after the storm.”
Didn’t Arne Duncan say that Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to the schools of New Orleans? Didn’t he celebrate the abrupt firing of all these teachers and their replacement by TFA? Well, yes.
The courts say he was wrong.
The law was upheld. You don’t wipe out the livelihoods of 7,000 people just because you want to. The court said that these men and women were entitled to due process. Justice prevails.
Copyright 2014 Diane Ravitch
[Diane Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University. Her most recent book is Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools. Her previous books and articles about American education include: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform, (Simon & Schuster, 2000); The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (Knopf, 2003); The English Reader: What Every Literate Person Needs to Know (Oxford, 2006), which she edited with her son Michael Ravitch. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.]