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Questions remain about school closures in Opelousas following school board meeting

Posted: 10:58 PM, Mar 13, 2019
Updated: 2019-03-14 00:13:41-04

Next week, the St. Landry Parish School Board could revisit a proposal to consolidate and close two schools.

The schools are North Elementary and Southwest Elementary.

Wednesday night, the board was supposed to vote on the future of those schools, but that was tabled because of public outcry. Administrators, board members, and parents say they’re upset because they heard about the proposal through KATC reporting.

“Don’t ask me to make a decision about something I had no input in, especially when I’m supposed to have input,” school board member Hazel Sias said.

“Give me the respect of as a board member letting me know what schools are going to close in my district,” school board member Milton Ambres said

Those two board members, along with parents and staff from North and Southwest Elementary schools, are directing their frustration at the superintendent.

“To be honest, my staff and I were completely blindsided. We knew that there were two schools out of four that would close, and we found out from the news that our school was one of the schools to be closed. In the public forums, we had that was never mentioned specifically. We just feel that it’s not fair to throw that at us,” North Elementary Principal Michele Thibodeaux said.

Superintendent Patrick Jenkins said it had been implied the schools would close. When asked if it had been explicitly stated or told to the principals, he said ‘no.’

“Myself, as well as the board president, worked very diligently in order to develop the agenda and make sure that we had an agenda that would be reflective of the boards’ wishes,” Jenkins said.

Off camera, Board President Mary Ellen Donato denies she had any part. Meanwhile, parents and teachers alike still have questions.

“It was decided on at the meetings because I’ve been to the last meetings that two schools were closed, but it was not said which two. The board has no say in which two, and that is not fair” Rachael Dupre Shaheen said.

The superintendent appeared hesitant to answer those questions.

“If it was never explicitly said Southwest and North [elementary schools] would be closing, if the board members never got an email, the principals never heard, why is that?” KATC’s Justice Henderson asked Superintendent Jenkins. He responded, “As I said before, we are going to continue to work on communication with all of our stakeholders and board members so that we can ensure that they have the information they need to make the best decisions possible.”

Henderson then followed up: “But, you can’t tell me they didn’t have this information prior?” He said, “What I can tell you is that we are going to continue to try and improve our communication process, so they can make the best decision possible.”

A committee will meet Monday to discuss the proposed school consolidation plans. The committee will consist of five board members who represent Opelousas and all of the elementary school principals in the city.