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Editor and Contributing Writer

Featured Photograph: Dale Fontenot speaks at the St. Landry Parish School Board Committee meeting. (Photograph by Freddie Herpin)

Photographs by Freddie Herpin

If St. Landry Parish School Board members were interested in obtaining public input about whether three rural public elementary schools should be closed or combined, they perhaps received their answer Thursday night.

Board members convening as a group into a non-voting committee, listened for nearly 90 minutes as parents, teachers and students indicated they are opposed to closing Washington, Grand Prairie or Palmetto elementary schools.

At this point the Board has not shown it will close or combine the three schools. The issue was also not included during a regular board meeting that concluded later Thursday night.

During the end of another committee meeting Monday night, board member Myron Guillory requested that the three schools should be closed and the issue discussed further during the Thursday night regular meeting.

Board president Albert Hayes, Jr. assured those who crammed into the Resource Center meeting room that the Board would not make any decisions on the futures of the schools Thursday night.

Hayes praised those who attended the meeting and called the experience “eye-opening.” Hayes added that he and the other board members intend to consider the information that they heard from the speakers if the item of closing the school becomes a Board voting matter.

“Closing a school requires a lot of time and planning. This is something that is not happening overnight. What (the speakers) said is something that will be taken into consideration,” Hayes said.

Those in attendance came prepared with signs that expressed a desire to keep the three schools open.

Palmetto Elementary has at times received “A and B” state achievement awards for test scores. Grand Prairie has been recognized recently as a national Blue Ribbon School also for high achievement. Washington Elementary administrators have touted the school’s increasing academic performance in state testing. The school though has only slightly more than 100 students registered in attendance.

All but one speaker who presented the issue to the committee stressed that each of the schools has been a cohesive element for their communities. “We lose that community when we close those schools. What price do you put on quality education? Why are we being punished?” asked Mary Alice Blanchard.

Danny Lafleur, who also spoke, said if board members wanted to gauge public opinion about school closings, the crowd that appeared during the meeting they received notice Thursday night.

Lafleur also questioned whether any consideration for closing the schools was in retaliation for the failure of a March 26 property tax proposition presented to voters’ parish wide.

Josh Sylvester, another speaker said the District had recently spent nearly $1 million for repairs for Grand Prairie, which was built about 100 years ago. Sylvester asked why spend all the money for modifications if the school is destined to be closed.

Courtney Gerace, who teaches at Washington Elementary, questioned the motivation for closing any of the three schools.“You shut schools down and watch those communities die off,” Gerace added.

Shanna Sias spoke in favor of closing the schools. “It’s not financially feasible to keep all schools open,” Sias said.

Another educator, Patricia Montgomery, said her Grand Prairie students feel the community campus has become what she said “is their safe space. I am asking you not to put money ahead of our children,” Montgomery said.