On the same day in May that Robert E. Lee's bronzed image came down in New Orleans, two black boys (like hundreds of boys throughout the city, and the state of Louisiana) were not allowed to graduate for arbitrary, punitive, and potentially illegal reasons.
Monuments to the Confederacy are coming down, but structural racism continues to create barriers for students of color in New Orleans schools.
Take the cases of Rahsaan Ison and Rashaad Brown, both enrolled at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. They had requested a tutor in Spanish, and one was provided under state and federal law protecting students with disabilities. But the tutor turned out to be so unprofessional that their school claimed he had cheated on a test by answering questions for them. It then refused to accept any of their work, making it impossible for them to achieve their graduation requirements.
I acted as a student advocate for the boys, and I asked for an accommodation so they could graduate with the rest of the class. Both Ison and Brown worked hard and had completed more than 600 assignments, and, according to computer records, they had passing grades. On the day of the graduation ceremony at 9 a.m., they were told by their principal that they had another 1,700 assignments to do that he had yet to "unlock."
Ison, who suffers panic attacks, couldn't breathe when he heard the news. "Why?" he asked. "What kind of ugly set-up is this? How can we do assignments if you didn't even unlock them? Every hoop you gave us to jump through, we jumped and jumped and now you're telling me I still can't graduate with my class. Why?"
In 2014, Ison was featured in Teen Vogue, after his school forced him to withdraw from ninth grade because he had crossed train tracks to save time and not be late for school. The story focused on the high number of students being expelled from schools for minor infractions.
As the Lee statue was being taken down, one of the principals at the Crescent Leadership Academy, another school in New Orleans, turned out to protest. He stood next to a Confederate flag and flashed white supremacist regalia, for which he subsequently lost his job...