The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rules that 7,000 Louisiana teachers were wrongfully terminated after Hurricane Katrina and are entitled to back wages. The judgment could reportedly bankrupt the Orleans Parish Public School System.
The Louisiana school ruling determined that the state is partly responsible for fiscal damages. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling also noted that teachers were not granted due process and that many of the educators had the right to be rehired when jobs were once again posted during the initial years after the storm.
The five judge panel reduced the possible damages certified in district court from five years to two to three years. Attorneys involved in the case estimate that the back pay and benefits awards amount could total $1.5 billion. The class action case include all staffer employed by the Orleans Parish School Board who had achieved tenure by August 29, 2005.
Local parents concerned that teachers from outside the area were replacing former teachers, have been vocal throughout the lawsuit. Some parents have expressed their anger that “outside teachers” do not understand the local students’ culture. According to NOLA.com, many schools have made a conscious effort to rehire pre-Katrina teachers. Area residents have also noted that hiring from within the parish helps ensure the city’s black middle class.
The Louisiana appeals court ruling also noted that the Orleans Parish School Board should have used the teacher layoff list for rehiring when buildings reopened and positions were posted in the two years following Hurricane Katrina. “In failing to create the recall list, the appellees lost the opportunity for employment for a minimum of two years,” the ruling states.
Education reformists reportedly hailed the opportunity to improve local public schools. After Hurricane Katrina, a significant portion of the formerly public schools became charter schools. Some feel the academic strides made since the storm prove the change in structure has been successful. School facilities opened slowly on either an individual or small group basis after the massive storm. The defendants argued that the layoffs were justified because they had no idea about when schools would reopen or how many would continue in existence.
Nearly all New Orleans school were taken over by the state of Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and became a part of the Recovery School District. Orleans Parish School Board ran more than 120 schools before Hurricane Katrina and now operates only six. Employment statistics which were current as of the end of 2013 indicate that the school board now employs just 600 individuals.
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