The Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights and the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana are joining forces for Louisiana’s children. Learn more.


Schools First

New Orleans School Discipline Landscape

In our effort to transform the juvenile justice system, JJPL has decided to address the policies and practices of our educational systems that funnel children into the juvenile justice system.  The Schools First Project of JJPL was initiated in the summer of 2006 to reduce the number of students suspended, expelled, pushed-out and arrested in schools in New Orleans.

One of the strengths of our young people, families and communities is their belief and investment in education as the most promising tool to create life opportunities.  For decades, New Orleans public schools’ zero-tolerance discipline policies and practices (such as suspension and expulsion) have pushed children out of school increasing students’ chances of involvement in the juvenile or criminal justice systems.  In addition, students have been and continue to be removed from educational environments through school-based arrests for minor offenses and discouraged from attendance by intimidating police practices on campus.

Research shows that these policies and practices do not improve student behavior, exclude students from educational opportunities, and increase the young person’s likelihood of involvement in the juvenile or criminal justice systems.

Schools First Project

Our Vision:

Schools First envisions public schools in New Orleans that service and support all students; utilize effective school-based interventions to help students with challenging behaviors; protect the rights of all students, including the unique rights of students with special learning needs; and maintain a wide range of services to invest in the strengths of all our children.

Our Mission:

The mission of Schools First is to reduce the number of suspensions, expulsions, push-outs and arrests in schools and to ensure a seamless educational transition between secure care and schools for those young people involved in the juvenile justice system.

Our Current Goals:

  • Decrease the number of suspensions and expulsions in New Orleans’ public schools by:
    • Providing direct advocacy for students in discipline hearings through Stand Up for Each Other! (SUFEO!) our partnership Loyola and Tulane Law students
    • Expanding capacity of parents/families to provide educational advocacy for students
    • Reforming current discipline policies and practices of school systems through technical assistance
    • Increase awareness of the “school-to-prison pipeline” through trainings to educators, advocates and community members
    • Monitoring policies, procedures, and data concerning suspensions and expulsions and share information about that data through our Suspension Matters data series
    • Pushing statewide policy and practice reforms through legislative action
  • Reduce the number of children entering the juvenile justice system from the school system due to unnecessary school arrest by:
    • Working with city-wide committees, such as the Children and Youth Planning Board and Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, to collect and analyze school data to determine trends and make policy recommendations
    • Providing access to evidence-based training for School Resource Officers
    • Distributing Know your Rights information for parents and students
  • Improve educational opportunities for young people in secure care and detention by:
    • Monitoring the educational consent decree related to the Youth Study Center
    • Providing technical assistance to Recovery School District Enrollment Services
    • Providing direct advocacy for youth in secure care

Our Successes:

  • Revised Recovery School District (RSD) Discipline Policy to:
    • Reduce the number of suspendable and expellable school offenses
    • Increase the number of school-based alternatives to suspension and expulsion
    • Mandate additional points of parental contact in disciplinary proceedings
    • include additional information about due process rights for children in disciplinary proceedings
    • Reduce the number of days children await expulsion hearings (2007)
  • Reduced Recovery School District security budget from $20 million to $8 million through the Schools First Collaborative (2007)
  • Served as part of the legal team representing Jesse Ray Beard in the Jena 6 case (2007-2008)
  • Filed a lawsuit in partnership with the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of a six year old child handcuffed and shackled at school. This suit resulted in a settlement agreement to ban the use of fixed restraints in the schools and the handcuffing of children under ten years old, as well as secured a commitment from the RSD to end the use of pepper spray in the schools (2010)
  • Contracted with RSD to train school Administrators and teachers on PBIS and implementation of student code of conduct
  • Advocated for and coordinated specialized training for RSD school security officers (2010-2012)Developed Stand Up for Each Other (SUFEO), a partnership with Tulane and Loyola Law schools to provide direct representation for students in discipline hearings which has a 86% success rate (2010)
  • Developed the Suspensions Matters Campaign to increase awareness around the over-use of zero-tolerance policies which resulted in local and national media attention (2013)
  • Worked in a broad-based coalition to help to create SB 646, legislation sponsored by Rep. Pat Smith that would decrease the number of students pushed out of schools and increase the number of safe, successful students by limiting the use of zero tolerance policies and increasing positive behavior interventions and alternatives to suspension and expulsion (2013)
  •  Named to state-wide Taskforce on Bullying Prevention  designated to study the procedures and processes by which incidents of bullying are reported and investigated and create a report of recommendations to the Legislature (2013)

Visit the website for Stand Up for Each Other! (SUFEO!)


View “Suspensions Matter” Series


For more information please contact Jolon McNeil

Schools First