As Lusher Name Change is Considered, Students Speak Out

By Zoe Moseley

Daniel Porea, a Lusher Charter School student, said regarding the subject of Lusher’s name: “This fight goes deeper than a name change. It is about the vilification, discrimination, and disproportionate treatment of black students and students of color in Lusher.” Rated one of the top public schools in the state, Lusher Charter School became a place that many families wanted to send their children. Recently the name of the institution has been under reconsideration due to it’s racist connotations. Lusher is named after Robert Mills Lusher who served as a clerk of the Confederate States District Court for the government during the Civil War. Historian Jari Honora described him as someone who “utilized his position to actively take rights away from African Americans”. He was elected Superintendent of Education for the state of Louisiana but resigned due to the fact that he did not want to oversee integrated schools. Honora described the time Lusher lived in as a “very very scary time to put it simply”. Lusher Charter was named by an all-white school board in 1917.  When asked about if Robert Lusher had done anything noteworthy to have a place of education named after him, Mr. Honora replied by saying that he promoted a segregated platform which at the time was noteworthy to those naming the school, the schools founding was promoting a segregated system. For one of the best public schools in the state to have a name that is harmful to BIPOC students has brought up not just a school-wide, but city-wide discussion about renaming the school.

This discussion  is not the first time conversations of renaming schools in the New Orleans public school system have come up. In the 1990s many debated changing public school names and building names, especially those named after John McDonough a plantation owner and politician. Education reporter Aubri Juhasz explained  that McDonough has “shades of gray” whereas Lusher did not. McDonough 35 is now one of the best predominantly black schools in the city, Juhasz said  for McDonough students “it is not about the name anymore, it is about academic excellence, students have redefined the name.” In the 1960s after Brown vs. Board of Education, McDonough No 19 was involved in the integration of public schools in the city, another way the name has been redefined. During this time many white families moved away from Orleans Parish to avoid integration. They moved to areas like St. Bernard, Jefferson and St. Tammany Parishes. McDonough’s namesake is taught widely throughout the city whereas Lusher’s is not even taught at the institution named after him The school shys away from its namesake’s history which students will no longer allow. Honora believes that  this conversation is happening now because “with all of the challenges we are facing surrounding police brutality people are taking a look at our institutions and how we honor people” and ultimately honoring Robert M. Lusher is still extremely offensive. 

What really was interesting about this story was the amount of students seen from Lusher who have been extremely involved in this discussion. A petition, a peaceful protest and even social media pages organized by Lusher students and their community have surfaced very quickly. Students have emphasized the importance of acceptance in the school that they love so dearly. “I love Lusher. It has become my second home filled with people that I would consider family. I hold the Lusher community dear to my heart,” Daniel Porea explained when opening a  conversation about the name change, specifically what students are feeling and how they are taking action. Instantly it was clear  that Lusher students are a part of a special community capable of great things. This shows this push for a name change comes from a love for their school and community trying to emphasize its importance. Porea said that at the school he did not feel comfortable at all. “I had fallen victim to underestimation, profiling and microaggression galore. What is really interesting is how I felt as though the microaggression was okay. As if me working twice as hard as my white counterparts to receive similar recognition in some classes is absurd.” For Lusher students the name change is the first step. “The goal is to get the name changed but, more importantly, implement a more active anti-discriminatory system that allows students to report anonymously their grievances (or specific situations of discrimination) and have a group of people to actively work to exact consequences,” Porea said. Daniel had the chance to speak at a peaceful (COVID safe) protest Lusher students held walking from the elementary school on Willow Street to the high school building on Freret Street. In front of the high school, students delivered speeches to many members of their community. Daniel described this as a once in a lifetime experience. Social media has also been an important part of the effort, as students share opinions and information easily with one another. When asked  about how social media has benefited their efforts Daniel responded by saying: “Social media has  helped and hurt our efforts. It has mostly been a positive influence on the movement at our school but I have seen outside opinionated individuals impose their beliefs on an institution that they have never been a part of.” This is just the beginning of efforts students like Daniel Porea will be making to change not only the name but culture at Lusher Charter. 

The current status of the name change according to Lusher’s school board CEO and Principal Kathy Riedlinger is that it is being conferred with the New Orleans Public School Board. This update was given this summer and little has been said since. And as Jari Honora said, “Reconstruction has yet to be completed. It was an idea to include everyone and unfortunately we haven’t gotten there yet. enaming institutions and looking at how we honor people may be the first step.”

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