Guest column: New Orleans has opportunity to lead the way for students with disabilities

By: Lauren Morando Rhim and Stephanie Lancet

New Orleans is in the midst of a historic transition, with the Orleans Parish School Board regaining local control of its public schools from the Louisiana Recovery School District. This unprecedented transition brings with it much opportunity to ensure every child’s individual needs are met, including students with disabilities.

Following the 2016 passage of Act 91, city officials proactively prepared for this transition, adopting new policies and practices related to special education. For example, due to a recently adopted differentiated funding formula, schools now receive per-student funding according to the time, resources, and type of instruction required to meet individual students’ needs. This move serves as both a stick and carrot, disincentivizing schools who continually enroll students with disabilities at rates much lower than the citywide average, and better supporting those who enroll natural or greater proportions.

Another notable change is the development of EnrollNOLA, an online unified enrollment system that assigns students to schools based on family preferences and school priorities. This need-blind system guarantees that no school uses the admissions process to discriminate against students with diverse learning needs, with students’ individualized education program status made available only after enrollment. There are opportunities for OPSB to improve EnrollNOLA — such as equipping parents with information on schools’ programs related to educating students with disabilities — but the system, like the differentiated funding formula, demonstrates OPSB’s dedication to equitable processes in a city where, historically, some schools have demonstrated less of a commitment to educating students with disabilities...

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