By Dana Eness, guest columnist
Lusher Charter School’s long-awaited name change may come as soon as the next meeting of the school’s board, the Advocates for Arts-Based Education, on Nov. 11. This follows a very painful and very public reckoning for the namesake of an avowed White supremacist, Robert Mills Lusher.
It is the hard-earned outcome of marches and other forms of protest, resistance and attempts at dialogue with the administration led by students and alumni of color and supported by allies. The outcry continued in earnest following the murder of George Floyd in the spring of 2020.
It comes after talented and committed teachers of color reluctantly resigned to protest an adherence to a name that belied deeper cultural issues and left students of color feeling unsafe. It comes after the dismissal of a dedicated and highly respected high school principal who brought these issues to the board’s and CEO’s attention.
But demands for a name change are not new; people who have called for better options with less baggage have felt voiceless and dismissed for decades. For too long, the heavy lifting was done by teachers, parents and students of color. As one 15-year LCS teacher puts it: “Here we are, stuck at the starting line of deeper conversations, unable (because some are unwilling) to unshackle the program from this shameful name.”
Unfortunately, it is possible that the name “change” may leave LCS shackled to the shameful name. Through an opaque selection process by the Renaming Study Group composed of administration and board members, two of the 11 finalists are ”Lusher Charter School of Academic Excellence, Diversity and the Arts” and, incredibly, “Lusher Charter School.”
The rationale? That Lusher Charter School would be named to honor Jeanne Marie Lusher, an accomplished physician whose only connection to New Orleans is the three years she spent in a Charity Hospital residency during the 1960s.
Changing the name should be the easiest part and only a first step. As a parent of two “Lusher Lifers” — students who attended LCS since kindergarten — I have been part of the LCS community for nearly 20 years. And like hundreds of Lusher parents, I am dumbfounded by school leadership’s failure to engage the community in frank, open dialogue. It is both confounding and heartbreaking.
If we can’t even get this right, what hope is there of affecting the necessary, meaningful transformation at a deeper level?
LCS is by no means the first school to grapple with a problematic school name. The question is: when confronted with overwhelming evidence of the need to change, how does a school’s leadership express its authentic desire to reconcile past and present?
I am reminded of the effort to distance Judge Perez Drive from its segregationist namesake, Leander Perez, by “renaming” it Judge Perez Drive in the 1990s. Same name, but now in honor of some other, less toxic judge, Melvyn Perez.
No one was fooled when Judge Perez Drive was renamed Judge Perez Drive, and no one will be fooled if Lusher Charter School is renamed Lusher Charter School.
Dana Eness is the mother of a Lusher 12th grader and a Lusher graduate.