St. Mary Parish teachers and parents express concerns over returning to the classroom

Dial Dalfred

ST. MARY PARISH, La. (KLFY) – Students returning to the classroom this fall — it’s one of the most controversial issues in today’s society.

Teachers and parents in St. Mary Parish find themselves in the same battle as many across the country as the first day of school quickly approaches.

With the first day back to school since the COVID-19 pandemic less than two weeks away, teachers and parents in St. Mary Parish are voicing their concerns with the school system’s plan to return.

Craig Mathews is a concerned parent. He believes administrators should “Come back to the table, invite the primary stakeholders, such as parents and primary caregivers and teachers to come to the table and engage in a meaningful dialog about what a comprehensive plan for reopening our public schools is actually going to entail.”

Mathews not only serves as the District 1 representative on the St. Mary Parish Council, but he’s also a parent to a senior at West St. Mary High School. Mathews says the school system’s plan to reopen only meets the minimum standard, and he has no intention of his child going back to school under these guidelines.

“I’m not going to send my child back to that campus for any reason anytime in the foreseeable future until I’m confident that this public district has had some comprehensive knowledge of what it takes to be able to reintegrate human beings back into this very risky environment,” Mathews said.

“It’s not right to send people into a situation where you know there’s going to be a problem, where you know there’s going to be infections,” said Patty Meehan, a speech-language pathologist for St. Mary Parish Schools

While reading the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s handbook for reopening, Meehan said Section C stands out.

Here’s what we find in Section C in the purpose and background portion: “While the requirements outlined in this Chapter are designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and to create a safe and healthy environment for students, faculty, staff, and others on school property, no requirement or plan guarantees that individuals will not contract COVID-19.”

Meehan says that’s a violation of the Teachers Bill of Rights; it reads, “A teacher has the right to teach in a safe, secure, and orderly environment that is conducive to learning and free from recognized dangers or hazards that are causing or likely to cause serious injury.”

“That’s a known danger that you’re requiring me and the students to go into,” Meehan told us.

It’s worth noting lawmakers passed a bill to protect K-through-12 schools and colleges against civil lawsuits from students or teachers who contract diseases like COVID-19.

Superintendent of St. Mary Parish Schools Dr. Teresa Bagwell hopes when teachers report to school this week, they will get organized and get a feel of the new protocols. Bagwell added when students arrive the week of August 10, Monday through Thursday will serve as a trial period to get students and staff acclimated — and Friday to serve as a professional development day.

“Which would provide time for schools to reflect on the plans and the procedural elements they had incorporated after having students walk through that and make any needed adjustments before we go into our full phase 2 schedule beginning Monday, August 17,” Bagwell said.

When St. Mary Parish schools open they will be using guidelines provided by the CDC and LDH.

K-5 students will be on campus Monday through Friday.

Grades 6-12 will use A/B schedules— and special education students have the option to attend five days a week.

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