St. Landry Parish Board made surprise motions to close two schools

St. Landry Parish

OPELOUSAS, La. (KLFY) — The St. Landry School Board surprised the community when they made motions to close two schools. Neither suggestions were on Thursday’s agenda.

District 13 school board member, Albert Hayes Jr., briefly made a motion to close North Central High saying, “Because it’s a school that is one of the newest schools in our parish, and apparently no one wants to use it.”

However, most of the discussion was centered on Washington Elementary. When the St. Landry Parish School Board was asked to vote on whether to move seventh and eighth grade students out of Washington Elementary, some board members proposed moving all the students out instead.

Milton Ambres, St. Landry Parish School Board Member for District 3 made the motion to close the school. “A hundred kids in a school is not enough to keep a school open,” he said.

Mary Ellen Donatto, District 13 St. Landry Parish School Board member, agreed. “I feel like the board was bamboozled in the way this was handled,” she said. “Were we not at one time moving in the direction of putting children together, consolidating schools, making things better academically and at the same time saving money?”

Some in the audience asked what the difference was between closing this school and closing two Opelousas elementary schools in 2019. Superintendent Patrick Jenkins said it is different for small communities.

“Whether it’s Morrow, Melville, Palmetto, Washinton, etc., those are very small communities, and we know that from experience when we close schools in those communities in that part of the parish, we lose those communities, and they basically fall off the face of the Earth,” Jenkins said.

Some board members questioned if they can get the educational opportunities they need with such small numbers.

District 10 St. Landry Parish School Board Member and current School Board President, Hazel Sias, went as far as saying, “When I look at it, we are keeping Washington open for the adults, and it’s the children who are going to suffer.”

The majority of the council gave Washington another chance; it would have taken unanimous support to add the motion to the agenda so suddenly. Citizens in the audience said if they try to close it again, it won’t happen easily.

“What is a community without a school? That is the only thing we have,” said Mary Anne Lavergne, a Washington citizen and Washington Elementary Alum. She added, “We are going to give you a fight if means going out to the streets and getting signatures. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.”

The last time the school board considered closing Washington Elementary was about two years ago, and Superintendent Jenkins added the school has improved academically and through attendance since then.

Still, Donatto said a classroom had as few as five students and questioned their social gap. News 10 spoke with Washington Elementary Principal Brenda Lavergne who disputed those numbers. She said their smallest class is 15, and they have 145 students.

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