Labor History in 2:00

January 31 The Day 7,000 New Orleans Teachers Fired

January 31, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 2006.

That was the day 7,000 teachers and staff at the Orleans Parish School District in New Orleans, Louisiana were fired.

The public schools were considered some of the worst in the country.

The school district was also bankrupt.

It was unable to account for $71 million dollars in federal funds.

After Hurricane Katrina, the school district lost nearly its entire tax base.

The district cancelled all pay and health insurance for its teachers and staff.

Then, the state of Louisiana seized control of most of the city’s 128 schools.

A majority were either closed or turned over to charter school operators.

The school district fired its remaining teachers and staff.

It was a union-busting maneuver against the United Teachers of New Orleans.

The union was an AFT affiliate.

Organized in 1972, it was the first integrated education union in the South.

Its membership overwhelmingly consisted of African-American women.

After the schools were turned over to the charters, they were replaced by inexperienced Teach for America workers.

Many of these new teachers did not have any teacher certification.

A class-action lawsuit followed.

In 2014, Louisiana’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that teachers and staff were not given due process and had the right to be rehired as schools reopened after Katrina.

The damages could amount to $1.5 billion.

Ten years after Katrina, a New York Times article asked, “Was Hurricane Katrina ‘the best thing that ever happened to the education system in New Orleans,’ as Education Secretary Arne Duncan once said?”

The answer has been resounding, no.

In the years since, the union has fought successfully to organize many of the charter schools in New Orleans.

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