The tensions engendered by a teachers' strike in any community have been exacerbated here by a suit filed this week on behalf of a group of parents charging that some recently hired substitute teachers may have criminal records.
"This is a very serious charge and something we're trying to look into," Orleans Parish school board attorney Frank Endom said. "It is entirely possible that we have people teaching in our schools with felony or misdemeanor convictions, but I don't think anyone knows that for sure."
More than 4,200 of New Orleans' 4,500 schoolteachers walked off the job Sept. 4 in a dispute over salaries and working conditions.
"We've been getting calls from all over the city," said Joe DeRose, teachers union communications director. "People who know some of the substitute teachers have been warning us that there are felons in the group and that they shouldn't be in the classroom. Parents are understandably upset."
In the suit filed in the parish's Civil District Court here, six parents claim that the school board has illegally hired the replacement teachers by "failing to require that substitute teachers submit fingerprints in a form acceptable to the Louisiana Bureau of Criminal Identification and Information prior to placement in the classroom."
School officials said that, even though most of the 3,000 substitute teachers have already been fingerprinted, the sudden strike by regular teachers made it necessary to hire substitutes before police background checks could be verified. Ellen Voelkel, a school personnel official, said such fingerprinting and background checks are still being conducted.
Willie Zanders, attorney for the suing parents, said he hoped to win a restraining order stopping any future substitute teacher hirings without complete background checks.