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Lusher appoints formal renaming committee, disbands ‘study group’ after threat of legal action

Lusher Charter School's middle and high school campus on Freret Street. March 7, 2021.
Aubri Juhasz
Lusher Charter School's middle and high school campus on Freret Street. March 7, 2021.

The board of Lusher Charter School voted unanimously Thursday to appoint a formal renaming committee after threats of legal action sidelined its informal ‘study group’ for allegedly violating the state’s open meetings law.

Before proposing that a committee be formed, the board called for an executive session and briefly discussed the matter with its attorney James Brown.

The renaming committee consists of board members Rachel Wisdom and Alysia Loshbaugh, both members of the study group, as well as Brenda Bourne.

Board president George Wilson did not detail the committee’s exact responsibilities, but the study group was previously tasked with hiring an outside consultant to engage with the community and come up with a new list of possible names for the board to eventually vote on.

Wilson formed the study group at the board’s November meeting, after members decided not to select a new name for the program as planned. A few days later, attorney Scott Sternberg, with Sternberg, Naccari & White, sent a letter on behalf of a group of Lusher community members identified as “concerned parents, alumni, and students” alleging that the board had violated state open meetings law since the original group carried out its work in private.

“What is not a harmless misstatement of the law is the idea that the [board] can call a committee it appoints a ‘working group’ or ‘study group’ and avoid the open meetings law,” Sternberg wrote in a letter first obtained by the Lens. “There is no basis in law for this game of names.”

The letter demanded that future study group meetings be open to the public, otherwise the board would face legal action. Two days later, Lusher families received an unsigned email stating that the school had temporarily suspended the renaming process due to “a threat of litigation.”

Lusher has been named for Robert Mills Lusher, an avowed white supremacist and Confederate tax collector, for more than 100 years, and its renaming process has been highly contentious since it was first approved in late September. While the community was invited to submit new name suggestions, and submitted more than 600, the board’s original study group ultimately came up with three final options largely on its own.

One of the suggestions, Lusher Charter School, in honor of Jeanne Marie Lusher, left some community members incensed and resulted in hours of debate about whether the board was moving forward with its decision to rename the program in good faith.

At its November meeting, the board ultimately voted to not consider the name Jeanne Marie Lusher, and in a letter to families after the fact, Wilson said the board had decided to “remove Lusher, in any form, from consideration as the school’s new name.”

Thursday’s meeting wasn’t as tense, with the only public comments coming from parents Dana Eness and Brook Grant, who both thanked the board for making the renaming process public.

“I know you said this isn't a time for questions and answers,” Grant said. “But I was wondering if the committee would also include other people in addition to board members?”

Board members did not address Grant’s question, nor did they share details on the committee’s first steps or a new timeline for the school’s renaming process.

Lusher’s next board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 20, 2022

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.

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