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Posted by on Apr 9, 2012 in Education, Politics | 3 comments

A Tale of Two Crows (Guest Voice)

A Tale of Two Crows
by Catherine Tanguis

As if the Stand Your Ground law and the current efforts to restrict voter registration hadn’t reminded us that discrimination is alive and well in the 21st century, Senator A.G. Crowe of Slidell, Louisiana introduced Senate Bill 217, that if passed, would reincarnate institutional segregation practices reminiscent of the Jim Crow era. The Louisiana Senate Committee advanced this bill, which would prevent non-discrimination protections by any state entity beyond what is designated by state law, and it awaits final hearing.

On the surface, Senate Bill 217 almost appears as innocuous as Senator Crowe would like us to believe. Supported by the Louisiana Baptist Convention, the Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Louisiana Family Forum, SB 217 would require that all state entries prohibit discrimination based upon race, religion, national ancestry, age, sex, or disability. To the casual observer, this seems entirely reasonable and fair. In a series of rhetorical equivocations that would make the Jesuits proud, Senator Crowe explained the reason he introduced the bill ” is because public entities throughout the state have not been following current law.”

As St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica reminds us, sometimes what it is omitted is what is most heinous. Omitted from SB 217 are the broader anti-discrimination policies as defined by the Department of Education which protects children from being discriminated against, among other things, for sexual orientation, athletic ability, ability to speak English and mental or physical disability. If SB 217 becomes law, those seeking state contracts, including charter schools (which are supported by tax payer dollars), would not be bound by the broader Department of Education’s anti-discrimination policies. This is at the very time when the Louisiana Legislature has decided through a series of controversial bills to expand the state’s charter school program.

Testifying on behalf of the bill, Leslie Ellison, president of the board of a New Orleans charter school, bemoaned how difficult it has been to conform to the Department of Education’s anti-discrimination practices. In fact, she refused to sign a charter school contract with the state Department of Education, as it required her not to discriminate against gays and others, calling it an “unjust demand.”

The lone dissenting vote on the committee was cast by Senator Ed Murray of New Orleans, who noted incredulously: “I can’t believe that at the same time we as a Legislature are passing bills that.… allow charter schools to deny admission based solely on a child’s ability to speak English well enough or play basketball well enough.”

Attempting to process the far-reaching implications of SB 217, Senator Murray also asked LSU law professor Randy Trahan during the hearing, “ So you think charter schools should be able to discriminate based on sexual orientation?” Professor Trahan’s response was “I think they should, yes.”

In spite of the clear discriminatory intent of the bill, and despite the fact that star witnesses discussed the bill in reference to its impact on charter schools, Senator Crowe, continues to insist that the bill is not discriminatory or directed at schools. In response to Lee Barrios, who commented on an article in The Advocate, Senator Crowe wrote: “In case you choose not to read the bill, you should know that it deals with contact law between private businesses marketing goods and services to government entities and nothing to do with students or government employees.”

That Senator Crowe does not believe that SB 217 has anything to do with children must come as a surprise to those who testified at the senate committee hearing. If witnesses as well as newspaper and television stations across Louisiana determine a sinister underbelly unbeknownst to Senator Crowe, perhaps he should withdraw it. Replace “sexual orientation” or “English-speaking” or “athletic ability” with “black” and we are back in the 1950s. The Jim Crow system was undergirded by doublespeak similar to those expressed by Louisiana Governor Jindal’s on SB 217: “We’re against discrimination, but we don’t believe in special protections or rights.”

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Catherine Tanguis is a teacher at Northshore High School in Slidell, Louisiana, an adjunct instructor at Nunez Community College in Chalmette, Louisiana, and Co-Director of the Greater New Orleans Writing Project at the University of New Orleans. She enjoys reading and collecting books, writing, baking bread, her dogs and cats, and spending time with her children and grandchildren.

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