An Addendum to Manufacturing Dissent

Why is the Southern Poverty Law Center trying to undermine an acclaimed New Orleans high school? 

A reader of my recent post, Manufacturing Dissent, which detailed the smear campaign being waged against Collegiate Academies by outside activists, brought my attention to the behind-the-scenes role being played by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in the protests.

Founded by Alabama attorney Morris Dees in 1971, SPLC first gained prominence in the 1970s and 1980s for its successful fight against hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Over time, the mission of SPLC expanded to the fight for immigrant and LGBT rights, as well as for children being pushed into the juvenile justice system.

SPLC founder Morris Dees

While these are all laudable aims, unfortunately it seems that SPLC’s efforts — in New Orleans at least — have strayed from the organization’s stated intentions and into the realm of political advocacy. Over the past few years, SPLC has filed a number of lawsuits against school districts and charter management organizations that in many ways appear to be motivated by an ideological agenda rather than the redress of legitimate legal claims.

Eden Heilman, SPLC attorney in the organization’s New Orleans office.

Admittedly, I had little evidence to support my impressions about SPLC’s motives, that is until the aforementioned reader sent me a copy of a protest letter sent to Collegiate Academies’ board purportedly from upset students. However, when one views the document’s properties, it shows that the author of the letter was in fact SPLC attorney Eden Heilman.

A “student” protest letter sent to board of Collegiate Academies was actually written by an SPLC attorney

The fact that an SPLC attorney helped to stage-manage what was otherwise portrayed as a grassroots protest raises questions not only about the role played by SPLC in coordinating the disruptions, but why they seem so intent on attacking an organization that has had great success in educating the very population SPLC claims to defend.

Hopefully, SPLC will see the error of its ways and work with local organizations like Collegiate Academies to improve the educational opportunities available to our city’s children, instead of simply trying to tear them down.

Postscript (12/18/13): Danielle Dreilinger, education reporter for the Times-Picayune, pointed out that the SPLC emailed local media about a rally held earlier in N.O. East — i.e., they’re not necessarily trying to hide their involvement at Collegiate Academies, at least in some respects.