Protest urged over voucher ruling

The Black Alliance for Educational Options and the Louisiana Federation for Children are urging parents of voucher students in Tangipahoa Parish to organize and protest a federal court ruling striking down the state’s voucher program within the parish.

“There are people that wake up every morning with the sole purpose of killing this program,” alliance state director Eric Lewis told a half-dozen families of Tangipahoa Parish students participating in the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program, commonly known as the voucher program.

“People need to hear from you about why this program is important,” Lewis said.

The families of the parish’s 50 voucher students were informed by the Louisiana Department of Education about the meeting, Wednesday night at Greater Refuge Temple Ministries in Amite, Lewis said.

U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle ruled Nov. 26 that the voucher program interfered with the parish school system’s ability to comply with its court-ordered desegregation plan, and issued an injunction against its implementation in the parish.

“I think it’s horrible that 50 kids are being held hostage because it has taken 47 years to resolve this case, because lawyers can’t figure this out,” Lewis said. “People have to realize how ridiculous this is.”

Lewis told the families if they organized a protest or held a march against the School Board office, “That’s the type of stuff we’re here to help you with.”

The parents group suggested starting a petition drive opposing the court ruling, with a door-to-door campaign for signatures and fliers informing people about the program’s impact.

Several parents also asked whether the ruling would force their children to transfer back into the public school system before the end of the school year.

“If you have not been told by your school principal or school leader to get out, then you’re good,” Lewis said. “The schools may be working things out that we don’t know about.”

Parents should contact their children’s school administrators to get more information, he said.

Amanda Henshaw said her 6-year-old son, Nathaniel Langston, cried when he heard he may have to re-enroll at Independence Elementary School.

“He calls it ‘the bully school,’ ” Henshaw said. “He was bullied there on a daily basis.”

Langston attends Mater Dolorosa Catholic School, also in Independence, where Henshaw said her son is no longer being bullied and is beginning to make friends.

“He makes straight A’s now and hasn’t missed a single day of school,” Langston’s father, Benjamin Langston, said. “He was threatened with failing last year because he missed so much, but now he’s doing great.”

Michael Lemane said he also removed his daughter from Independence Elementary School in favor of Mater Dolorosa after a fight among parents broke out at his daughter’s kindergarten graduation.

“My impression is that the school is trying to do good things, but their hands are tied, their resources limited,” Lemane said.

Ungie Powell said her daughter, who has learning disabilities, was not receiving the resources she needed in public school.

“She was on accommodation, but I never saw any accommodating being done,” Powell said. “She had F’s before, but she’s doing great now.”

Wanda Carter said she paid out-of-pocket for her youngest child to attend pre-kindergarten at a private school where her older child has enrolled.

“And she’s actually reading words,” Carter said. “In public school, all they ever did in kindergarten was paint and draw all day.”