Lusher Charter School will be renamed The Willow School

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Lusher students protest outside the Freret Street campus in July 2020.

After decades of heated controversy that boiled over in recent years, the Lusher Charter School board has chosen a name to replace that of avowed White supremacist Robert Mills Lusher. The highly ranked public school educating kindergarteners through 12th-graders will become The Willow School.

The name is a nod to the Willow Street building where the school began educating students in 1917 and where the elementary students are still educated.

The Orleans Parish School Board renamed the building itself for Dr. Everett J. Williams Jr., the first Black superintendent of the city’s public school system. Robert Mills Lusher was a Reconstruction-era state school superintendent who promoted and instituted racial segregation in public schools.

While the School Board owns the buildings, the name of the school program can only be changed by the Lusher board, the Advocates for Arts Based Education.

School officials have long been aware of the Confederate official’s harmful legacy. They dropped “Robert Mills” from its name to become simply “Lusher” in 1976, when it became a magnet school.

The school, however, had resisted pressure to change the name, even as that pressure erupted into protests in 2020 during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Some board members and parents said they wanted to retain the Lusher name because of the selective-admission public school’s prestigious legacy and reputation for quality education. “The brand is worth keeping,” board member Gary Solomon said at a November 2021 meeting.

In September 2021, the board voted to rename the school but could not agree on a name. A study group that met privately created a list of 11 names, two of which included the name “Lusher.”

The group proposed naming the school after Jeanne Marie Lusher, a ground-breaking pediatric oncologist whose sole connection to New Orleans was a residency at Charity Hospital. That idea was rejected in November 2021 after an emotional meeting that lasted almost four hours with 90 public comments.

Name-change supporters in 2017 suggested “Sylvia Branch” as the new name. Six-year-old Sylvia Branch and her friend Toni Robinson walked past angry mobs to become the first Black children to attend Robert Mills Lusher School in 1962. Her name, however, was not on the board’s 2021 list.

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