The governing board of Lycée Français de la Nouvelle Orleans approved a set of new policies Monday night requiring federal immigration agents to present a warrant before talking to any students, setting new penalties for overdue fines for extracurricular activities, and adding more preschool seats for disadvantaged families next year.
The immigration policy creates directions for the school’s staff on how to respond if federal immigration agents show up, said board chair Michael Williams. It essentially mirrors the policy set by the Orleans Parish School Board for its schools, which is to require a warrant before enforcement officers can speak to any students.
“If they don’t have a warrant, they can’t tell our school what to do or how to proceed,” said Lycee academic director Marina Schoen.
“The board and the school are not necessarily taking sides,” Williams agreed. “Our staff is not instructed to get involved in the legal fight.”
More controversial for the handful of parents at Lycee’s board meeting was the creation of a new policy prohibiting students from participating in free after-school clubs or activities if they have unpaid fines. The school has accumulated nearly $150,000 in unpaid fines over the past year — mostly for student lunches or drop-in after-school care by families who do not qualify for the federal free meals program, school officials said.
Several parents worried that the new system of penalizing students for failure to pay fines will harm the school’s ability to recruit at-risk families. Lycee is required by the state to seek an enrollment that matches the state’s percentage of at-risk families, around 67 percent, but has never done reached that goal — in part because of the difficulty of adding new students to any grade above kindergarten in a full-immersion program.
“We’re going after an at-risk population,” said one parent from the audience. “We’re trying our damnedest to get it up higher, but those are the people this is going to affect.”
School officials replied, however, that since those families qualify for free lunches and after-school care, the policy is unlike to affect them. The policy is more directed to those families who do have enough money to pay for the services but choose not to.
The board voted 5-0 in favor of the overdue-fine policy, with board member Allyson Mills abstaining. Mills said she didn’t oppose the policy, but thought it could have been implemented by the school administration without a board vote.
In order to keep growing its at-risk population, the school also voted to ask the state to increase the number of free preschool seats at Lycee for those families from 40 to 60 next year. While preschool is not free in Louisiana, the state does reimburse individual schools for a set number of preschool seats each year for underprivileged students through what is known as the “LA4” program, and Lycee has traditionally had a waiting list for those seats.
Lycee also has 20 preschool seats that are tuition based — primarily intended for younger siblings of current students — and that number is not expected to change next year. Thus, if the state approves the LA4 expansion, it would increase the total size of Lycee’s preschool to 80 students.
Lycee’s enrollment this year is 812 students. Its school performance score fell from last year’s high of 105 to a 97.5, or a B, this year, prompting an explanation from academic director Marina Schoen.
To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below.