Jefferson Parish School Board :: You Let Us Down

Disclaimer :: We, at New Orleans Mom, support public schools, and many of our team members have had a great experience with Jefferson Parish Public School System.

On Wednesday, August 6th, an assembly of parents and teachers gathered before the regularly scheduled Jefferson Parish School Board Meeting to protest the start of in person schooling for the largest school district in Louisiana under current conditions. I won’t go into the responses to their protest, which range from support to compassion to anger to dismissal. What else is new these days?

For a myriad of reasons, I opted not to attend in person, and watched the online stream. My family and I have made the hard decision to allow our children to return to school in person. That decision was made after a lot of hand wringing, research, unknowns, and input from the kids themselves. Several families went through the same process and opted for Virtual Jefferson.

Plenty of families do not have the luxury of choice. They have no one to watch their children. They don’t have the bandwidth to teach them. They are essential workers, healthcare workers, or in inflexible jobs. This pandemic is slowly but surely wearing all of us down, if it hasn’t already.

But that’s probably another discussion. My point is there is no “right” or “wrong” and I wasn’t about to question other families’ choices. Then the surrounding parishes opted to either delay their start date or begin virtually. Meanwhile, Jefferson Parish public school teachers and support staff returned to work this week, and more information unfolded.

I want to talk about so much. I want to talk about the fact that, because our government has not created a unified stance in the world of education, we’ve siphoned the burden of these decisions down to already stressed and overwhelmed families. I want to talk about how pandemic pods and private schooling have created an even larger economic disparity. I want to talk about the lack of communication that public schools have exhibited in the past six months, whereby they claim they are prepared and ask us to trust them with our children, but haven’t managed to iron out details when prompted. I want to talk about how we as a state are still under the assumption that LEAP testing, required school days, and teacher evaluations are still somehow necessary right now.

I want to talk about the fact that schools are suddenly limiting before and after care, forcing working families to scramble to adjust their work schedules, often with little support from their employers. I want to talk about the careful language that Jefferson Parish has used in its Start Strong plan, which includes a heavy burden on parents and individual schools to make choices “to the maximum extent possible.” Hell, I want to go back to the board’s abrupt hire of the Louisiana State Superintendent of Education, who completely disrupted the system as he Yertle the Turtled his way through us to the Louisiana Department of Education. I’m not totally mad at that one – I like the new Superintendent. I want him to succeed – because it means our district does.

But for now, I’m going to focus on the school board meeting that ended abruptly when a black man raised his voice to a white woman. Mr. Board Member, I want to give you the benefit of the doubt, I truly do. You pride yourself on mentioning that you are the longest standing board member, so I have to assume you’ve been yelled at before. I want to believe your reaction was not racially motivated. But I’ve been to those meetings, and here’s what I’ve seen:

  • Board members answering their phone while a concerned parent or teacher is speaking
  • Board members leaving the room while a concerned parent or teacher is speaking
  • Board members looking at their phones, seemingly texting, while a concerned parent or teacher is speaking
  • Board members eating snacks while a concerned parent or teacher is speaking
  • The Board Attorney surfing the internet while a concerned parent or teacher is speaking

I won’t go on. You get the point. You’ve showed us, repeatedly, that you don’t always care what we say. You say you do. So maybe you do. But do you hear?

Still, I’m going to set that aside and give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m going to assume that if I, as a white woman, was upset because I’m genuinely frightened and angry about the coming school year and I saw your fellow board member looking at her phone while I gave an impassioned plea to be heard so I raised my voice – you would have reacted the same way.

I don’t like what he said either, but I get what was behind it. And once he was escorted out, there was still a line of people who had waited three hours to express themselves. See below – this was taken when you abruptly and inappropriately adjourned the meeting.

 

These are the people who voted for you. These are the teachers and staff who are asking for a safe, reasonable working environment so that they can do the immense work of educating our children. They are not being lazy. They do not want more time off. They want to be able to do their jobs in the way you promised they would. These are the people you’ve asked to trust you.

You let them down. You let us down. You could have removed that man and continued to patiently and attentively hear the voices of the people you are sending into ill-equipped and under prepared schools on Wednesday. Particularly since you had already delayed the vote about whether or not to adjust the start of school to your super secret executive committee meeting. The things they had to say directly affect that vote. And they went unsaid. Because you chose not to listen.

I don’t know the right answer, and I don’t envy you in making this decision. Here’s what I do know. The right decision should not be based purely on business interests. The teachers and parents and professionals who were able to speak last night made valid points. Since the board has a history of zoning out when people other than them are speaking, I laid them out for you below.

  • Promised PPE and sanitization supplies have not yet been made available at every school. Several teachers showed you they either had received very little or nothing at all. One teacher held up the 16 oz bottle of hand sanitizer she received. Cleaning products, masks, and thermometers are a crucial part of your plan to keep everyone safe. You required it (with good reason), but you are not providing the support you promised. This will have a drastic effect on the schools that are economically disadvantaged or lack parental involvement. This is what one teacher received.

    Sure, that’s enough for the year.
  • Chromebooks and Promethean boards are “not in” yet. School starts in less than a week and even the students who chose the Virtual Jefferson option are not prepared with the right equipment. Additionally, teachers do not yet have cameras in their classrooms to record their lessons.
  • Teachers were notified that they are expected to teach virtually AND in-person simultaneously. There are several legal questions surrounding the children in the classroom and whether their names and faces will be on the video. Additionally, teachers will not be able to monitor a chat feed, in person questions and keep the class flow. This is unreasonable. You promoted Virtual Jefferson on the premise there would be a separate pool of teachers – particularly those who are immunocompromised and would be at risk if they taught in-person. You sent out a survey, so you must have used all that information to make these decisions, right?
  • Parents are being notified – with very short notice – that aftercare slots are limited and may not be available. Some parents have been notified there is not a slot available for them. There is no clear understanding of how those choices are made, how one person won the lottery and another didn’t. Probably because you left that up to each school instead of providing guidance, and they can only do so much, amiright?
  • Bus drivers will not be taking temperatures, it is assumed that parents are sending healthy kids to school. Let’s ignore for a minute that many, many people are asymptomatic. This means that children will ride the bus, walk through the school and get into the classroom before there is a temperature check taken.
  • At the meeting, the representative from Oschner indicated that rapid results testing would be made available to educators to cease the spread of coronavirus in the event a teacher or staff member is infected. Great!!! Unfortunately those tests are not yet available and “may be” ready by the time school starts on the 12th.

This is just a few of the things mentioned last night. The parents and teachers last night were just getting started. They deserved to be heard, every single one of them. I don’t know what the right answer is – do we delay or not – what I do know is that the impression you gave last night was that your mind was made up, no matter who it hurt.

I hope I’m wrong. I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt and be a supporter of public school systems. After all, I love my children’s school – their faculty and staff are dedicated, professional, and amazing. I’m trying, very hard, not to be angry that you’ve dismissed the countless people who are now dealing with the fallout of your “amazing” Start Strong plan.

The board needs more educators and fewer business people. The Parish deserves a board that is actively passionate about the students, teachers, staff and parents it serves. Particularly when, last night and beyond, you’ve shown me that, behind closed doors, you’ve already made up your mind.

School starts very soon. Please prove me wrong.

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Jen is an author and a member of the events coordinator team for New Orleans Mom. She divides her attention between books, friends, family, and Mardi Gras. When she’s not working, Jen enjoys being active and adventurous. She can be found walking at the park, taking yoga classes, and swinging Kettlebells around the city. She loves chats at coffee shops with a good friend and insists on having a family fun day at home once a week. Those days are for couch time, completing puzzles, or playing video games with her two kids, husband, and a variety of furry critters... plus the occasional frog.

14 COMMENTS

  1. I decided on the 20th day of August after some serious waffling. I have loved my job for44 years. I adored my school and co workers. So many of my friends are Jeff Parish teachers. My doctor advised me to stay at home… because in her words, I’m fat, old and diabetic”. Not news, it’s been that way for years… but still i waffled because I called my department, my union, my friends all to hear the same answer… crickets or “we don’t know, no one has told us, good question…. but no concrete answers about anything. Nothing is not a good way to start, especially with the parish’s youngest children. It was just not enough information to make me comfortable, so I did what some one I love told me to do… Retire, MOM! I love you, retire! So… I had a good run, several outstanding administrators, lots of friends and wonderful kids.

  2. Thank you for this post. This is my 2nd year as a classroom teacher and I am experiencing so much anxiety, since the first day I returned back to school. To get to school and see how much we’re not prepared for students has sent my nerves into overdrive. I had to go to the doctor to get medication to help with my anxiety. Ive always loved working with kids and give them the extra love they may be missing, but this year I’m afraid I won’t be able to do so because I’m going to be too afraid to get sick and to afraid either my students will get sick or they’ll bring germs home to their family members. What is a teacher to do?

  3. Let’s add the fact that some schools (the one where I work and others) do not even have all the needed textbooks. Students will not be able to appropriately social distance because there are not enough teachers to be able to split the number of traditional learners. Also, let’s add that the kids will be using Google Classroom and Google Meet which teachers have never used before. Some school, like mine, gave a brief 25min “training” which left us even more lost and worried about the kids’ online safety and privacy.
    OH, and on top of all that… Jefferson Parish Public School System is trusting a company well known for violating federal data privacy laws about children. I really want to go back to work but I need training, I need to be prepared for my students.

  4. Brining race into this was where you lost me, it was unnecessary to point out that a black man yelling = a scared white woman. Please be careful with passive racism if you want your point to stick.

    • Thank you for your input. It is a fact (and on video) that a black man raised his voice to a white woman and the meeting was promptly shut down. I disagree it was unnecessary to point out and, as I said in the post, I am giving them the benefit of the doubt. I believe my point still sticks as it is laced in fact, but I appreciate your perspective.

      • Agreed with Angie above. I am a white woman (since apparently that matters for context), but I wouldn’t imagine needing to declare that to somehow further prove my point about big Mr. Scary School Board Man. Just proves there may be other biases involved and makes the article seem unfounded before I have a chance to read more into your points.

        • I’m sure anyone who watched the board meeting will not believe my article to be unfounded, and I would hope people are able to see an entire picture without drawing conclusions based on one paragraph. Several people raised their voices and used the same rhetoric as that man. The meeting did not shut down until him. That is a fact I stand by. If you watched or attended the meeting and have a different perspective then by all means share it.

  5. Think you made a good point when questioning if the meeting would have been canceled had a white person raised their voice to a black or white person, probably not.

  6. Agree with Angie and Erica. Race has no place here. If he were a white and she a black woman who adjourned the meeting, would you have filmed and announced this. Racism certainly has been played enough in these past, pandemic months. Let’s stick to the issues of safety, working parents with no way to support their children if they are not in school, and the ongoing worry of this disease as it barrels through the world; specifically, our own back yards. The rest of your story is well put and certainly deserves answers.

    • To be clear, I did not film anything. All school board meetings are live streamed and available online. I did not at any time seize on an opportunity to bring up race or exploit a situation. However I will stand by my belief it played a factor, just as some will stand by the belief that it didn’t.

  7. We need to stop giving in to the fear that we have been led to believe truly exists by the media. Look further than the surface. . It’s a virus. No more, no less. Don’t give up your control.

    Start school. Let’s do life.

  8. The comments of the previous dozen or so teachers, parents, & specialists were compelling – logical, convincing. & impassioned. It is ESPECIALLY rude for board members to look ANYWHERE OTHER than at the people imploring & pleading for the physical, mental, ,& emotional well being of themselves & their students. It was self-centered to have abruptly shut down the meeting because of one young man’s anger without hearing the comments of many still in line to speak.

  9. What do private schools have to do with anything? I noticed you quickly mentioned them, but I’m not sure what they or “pods” (I don’t know what that is?) have to do with public schools? The only thing I can come up with is they have more cleaning supplies and maybe the teachers were better prepared on the computer systems? Is that it?

    I agree with you about race and find it completely appropriate to mention it within this article since I believe, as you, it was a final reason the meeting was ended. What a shame.

    • Because there has been no mandate from the governor regarding when or how to start schooling, private schools are free to start whenever (and however) they want. Additionally, people are putting together pods where they rent a space, hire a teacher, and in essence create a mini-school. Neither of these are inherently bad, it’s great that people have other options for schooling. The concern is that, because the Parish is mismanaging this situation, children of well-off or financially stable families will get an advantage and students without options will end left behind. As you said, they can afford electronics and supplies. Additionally, they can focus on education sooner as they are not at the mercy of a higher risk of infection and subsequent closure.

      Again, I’m not upset with private schools or the pods themselves. But the lack of unity and consistency across the board creates disparity. I hope that answered your question.

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