Katrina smashed New Orleans, now SCOTUS smashes its teachers

WASHINGTON (PAI) – The quest of 7,500 fired New Orleans teachers and school staffers for back pay and damages – union members summarily let go through a state takeover after Hurricane Katrina smashed their city and their schools almost a decade ago – ended May 18 in a loss at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Without comment and with votes unreported, the justices turned down the teachers’ appeal of a Louisiana Supreme Court ruling denying them class action status to sue for millions of dollars as a result of the firings.

Before the losses at the two Supreme Courts, in D.C. and in Baton Rouge, the teachers and staffers, members of the American Federation of Teachers, had won in lower courts. 

Those judges ruled the Orleans Parish School Board – which was left with fewer than six schools to run after the state’s post-Katrina takeover – violated the teachers’ “constitution-ally protected property right” to be rehired for reopened schools under the union contract.

But Louisiana’s state supreme court ruled 5-2 for the school board and the U.S. Supreme Court, in Eddie Oliver vs. Orleans Parish School Board, agreed.

“Today, the judicial branch has again failed 7,500 citizens, but America has three branches of government,” said the fired teachers’ attorney, Willie Zanders Sr. “I plan to ask the legislative branch for a formal congressional hearing regarding $500 million in federal funds sent to help public school employees after Katrina, but Louisiana politicians had other plans.”

That federal money didn’t go to the fired teachers and aides, Zanders said. Instead $29 million went to New York financial consultants, $20 million to a Texas school security firm and millions more went to out-of-state school bus and food service companies.  The state told federal officials a decade ago that Orleans Parish schools needed the money to keep staffers on basic payrolls while they helped rebuild the schools and the system, a state letter shows.

What it did not say is that the state turned over all but a handful of Orleans Parish (City/County) schools to the state-established Recovery School District, which converted them to non-union charters – and which refused to hire any of the teachers and staffers. And when Louisiana got the $500 million, it turned those funds over to the recovery district.

The firing of the teachers and dismantling of the public transit company, also unionized, by then-Mayor Ray Nagin, devastated the African-American middle class in what was then a two-thirds African-American, but also poor, city.  Katrina also robbed New Orleans of approximately one-third of its population and cemented Louisiana’s status as a deep-red state.

Photo: A teacher with the United Teachers of New Orleans holds a sign reading “United We Stand” in solidarity with the fired New Orleans teachers.  |  United Teachers Facebook page


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.