Feature photo: An empty Lafayette High School on June 9, 2020 at 9 a.m. By David Reed.
This story has been updated Wednesday, Sept. 9
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that Toni Ventroy is also President of the St. Martin Federation of Teachers.
As public schools in Lafayette Parish start class this week, many families said they feel the Lafayette Parish School System has failed to effectively communicate exactly how they will keep their students safe as well as specific details on how classes will operate this semester.
In-person classes resumed Tuesday, Sept. 8 in Lafayette Parish in the midst of looming COVID-19 concerns among students and parents.
Over the past few months families were given the option to either enroll their students in face-to-face classes, or in Lafayette Online Academy, a fully online learning option run by LPSS.
John Paul, a parent in Lafayette Parish, said his family chose to enroll their children in face-to-face classes. While Paul said he thinks LPSS won’t be able to enforce effective social distancing guidelines, he also said he wasn’t confident his children would get an adequate education from LOA. Paul said that LPSS placed families in an unwinnable situation by reopening schools haphazardly instead of focusing their efforts on creating a high-quality, virtual learning environment.
“I’m terrified about sending them to school,” Paul said.
LPSS’s reopening plan stated students and faculty will socially distance as much as possible.
“Student seating in classrooms, libraries, and cafeterias will follow social distancing protocol to the greatest extent possible,” the reopening plan reads. “Students will remain six feet apart in lines to the greatest extent possible.”
Paul said these guidelines aren’t satisfactory, as he said he felt like they will allow schools to operate without fully adhering to social distancing guidelines.
“It’s not possible,” Paul said. “If I thought they even were trying to meet the scientific, clinical requirements to sanitize the environment and maintain social distancing that’s needed, I would feel better, but I don’t think they’re even really doing that.”
Broussard Middle School teacher and President of the St. Martin Parish Federation Toni Ventroy said she and her coworkers are often struggling to remember social distancing requirements throughout the day. She said she thinks many students will likely forget about the guidelines when interacting with their friends at school.
Ventroy said she doesn’t believe elementary schools will be able to ensure young children will wear a mask at all times when teachers already had trouble getting young children to wear other required items, such as ID cards and belts.
Yet despite these initial concerns, Ventroy said the first day of school went smoothly. There were substantially less students in class, and she didn’t notice any students or faculty members breaking the COVID-19 guidelines. She attributes this successful return to the school’s principal, Heather Olson, who she said is determined to see students and faculty obeying the guidelines at all times.
Custodians will also be working a lot harder than normal, according to Ventroy, and said she feels like they aren’t paid enough to meet the extensive sanitation requirements.
Nadine Melancon, a parent in Lafayette Parish, said she saw firsthand how intense the cleaning procedures will need to be when she went to her children’s school to sign paperwork. According to Melancon, she was handed a cup of pens to sign her forms with, and without thinking much about it, put the pen back into the cup when she was done.
“I just automatically put the same pen back into the cup, and she went, ‘Oh, oh well, that’s okay’ and I could tell I screwed up,” Melancon said. “I’m an adult, and I made that mistake right away. Can you imagine little kids?”
Middle school and high school face-to-face classes will be on an “A/B schedule”, meaning that half of the students will come in person on select days of the week, and learn online on the remaining days. Ventroy said she was worried this could result in students attending class on the wrong day.
“Then what do you do with those kids?” she said.
Deanie McClelland, a mother of three, said she already encountered a problem with the A/B schedule.
“I called my son’s bus driver yesterday just to make sure everything was good, and he had Braden listed as being on the A schedule. I said, ‘Well, no, our house is 202. So, that’s even so he’s a B schedule. And he was like, ‘Oh, I don’t even know why I had it down,’” McClelland said. “It’s very small things that all eventually add up and just give people misinformation.”
Renee Box, a mother and a teacher at Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy, agreed that many of the problems parents in Lafayette Parish are facing have to do with poor communication from LPSS.
“It creates its own drama by not communicating. Ask any parent who has signed up for LOA if they know what the hell’s going on and the answer is going to be no,” Box said.
According to Melancon, she enrolled her children in LOA this semester, and recently received an email telling her she needed to update her email address for LOA only a week before school started. Melancon said LPSS told her they need an updated email address so she can receive login information on or before Tuesday, Sept. 8.
“Sept. 8 is the first day of school. And they’re not even promising that they’re going to have the login information for me by then. And I have no clue how to log on,” she said.
LPSS did not respond for comment on issues with communicating with the public or issues regarding public health concerns.
Despite problems with communication, McClelland said LPSS was doing the best it can given the circumstances.
“This is something unprecedented. None of us have ever been through this,” she said.
Box and Paul said the staff at their children’s schools have done a good job communicating with parents, and most of the problems were coming from LPSS.
Ventroy and Paul said they understood why schools felt the need to reopen classrooms this semester, but they also felt like this decision ultimately placed students and teachers at risk.
“We’ve got to do some compromising, but the area where we compromise is not our children’s lives,” Paul said.