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St. Landry Parish School Board member Marry Ellen Donatto in a file photo from 2018.

St. Landry schools to open with online instruction

The St. Landry Parish School Board decided public schools will open Aug. 20 with online instruction in an attempt to shield students and employees from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Board voted 12-0 in a meeting conducted using Zoom with at least 100 online participants on Wednesday.
By contrast, Lafayette and Acadia parish public school will hold in-person classes when classes open. Schools stopped face-to-face sessions in March when the COVID-19 epidemic erupted in the state.
Eunice Board member Mary Ellen Donatto said, “It is disturbing to me that a nation would put this kind of pressure on schools to get started.”
Schools have been expected to cure society’s ills and needs, she said. “And now we are expected to take care of the economy.”
She added, “We need to get a handle on the virus first” before reopening with in-person classes.
While its 13,000-plus students will receive online instruction, the district’s employees are to report to the 34 schools.
Legal adviser Courtney Joiner said he had created a list of 13 issues during the meeting of about three hours that need to be addressed. The issues will require the Board to meet every week to resolve them, he said.
The Board took two votes. One was to conducted school virtually and the other to adopt a calendar that included the Aug. 20 start date. The Board removed any student on-campus references from the calendar.
Comments before the vote pointed to the direction the Board was going to take.
Public comments were largely against in-person classes.
Jamal Taylor, president of the parish’s chapter of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said, “We don’t need to be like everyone else. It is not necessary for us to do what other people are doing...”
After comments, Joyce Haynes, an Opelousas Board member, moved the schools open after Labor Day and do so virtually.
Another Opelousas Board member, Daryl Wagley, added that a committee should be formed to established conditions for in-person classes.
Donatto charted the direction in her comments.
“If we shut down our schools with the few cases we had in March and we open them up when it is escalated higher than it has ever been, then it isn’t logical,” Donatto said.
“Life comes first,” she said in urging the Board to proceed with caution.
“I know children are going to lose academically, but if we keep them alive they can catch up academically, she said.
Donatto retired as a principal at East Elementary.
‘This time the experts are parents and teachers,” she said.
Denise Rose, another retired principal on the Board, said, “Don’t doubt yourself. The reason they want the schools open is for the economy and they are willing to forget about the safety of the children and employees in order to open the schools for the economy.”
In urging an Aug. 20 opening, Donatto said students would lose too much instruction time, particularly if state tests are given, if the opening was delayed to after Labor Day.
Superintendent Patrick Jenkins said it is critically important to maintain the mandated instruction time.
The district should have enough devices for every student by the end of the month, but may have to ask students to use their own devices if an order of computers doesn’t arrive.
The district has received 3,000 of 6,000 computers ordered, he said.
Byron Wimberly, computer center supervisor, said a households of students are being surveyed to determine what devices are available and internet access. Wimberly said hot spot access is planned and where cell phone service is absent, school buses or community centers may be used to provide internet.

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