LIVINGSTON, La. (The Livingston Parish News) – Teachers continued to voice their frustrations with the school system’s hybrid learning model before storming out of another tense meeting of the Livingston Parish School Board last Thursday.
The meeting was held in front of a packed house, with a dozen or so teachers having to watch from outside the Suma Professional Development Center after the building reached its 50-person limit.
Less than a month into the school year, teachers and parents alike repeated their concerns that the district’s hybrid model “is not working.” Several teachers said they’re struggling trying to juggle their in-person and virtual students, while parents said it’s “unreasonable” to expect children to regularly work on school assignments at home “without supervision.”
The Livingston Parish school system implemented a hybrid model to start the school year, with students placed in one of four groups: Group A/B students, who alternate days learning on campus and at home; Group C students, who learn in a 100-percent virtual format; and Group D students, who learn traditionally five days a week.
The school system recently added students in grades 3-5 to the list of students who receive daily face-to-face instruction.
The hybrid model was implemented to adhere to capacity limitations set by the Louisiana Department of Education amid the coronavirus pandemic. The groups will stay intact while the district is in Phase Two of its reopening plan, which mirrors the phase Gov. John Bel Edwards has set for the state.
Students would receive face-to-face instruction five days a week if the state moves into Phase Three, while all learning would be done virtually in Phase One.
Edwards’ current Phase Two order is set to expire on Friday, Sept. 11. He is expected to make an announcement regarding the current order sometime this week.
Teachers have voiced their concerns since the start of the school year, and those cries for help continued in the School Board meeting last Thursday. Many teachers said that the hybrid model — which one called an “unsustainable plan” — has placed an “overwhelming” workload on them and lessened the quality of their instruction. A few said they are losing passion for the job.
“We have fought and sacrificed through it all, but we are drowning,” said Andrew Pullman, a high school art teacher. “We’re drowning, and you’re watching us struggle to keep our kids afloat.”
The boiling point came near the end of the meeting, after District 9 board member Devin Gregoire motioned to create a committee that would include board members, central office staff, teachers, and parents.
Gregoire said his proposed committee — which was supported by the teachers in attendance — would meet as soon as possible “to come up with a viable solution that not only satisfies our curriculum requirements but also our teacher needs, student needs, and parent needs.”
“Every year, our teachers get into something new… and go above and beyond and succeed,” Gregoire said. “They’ve done it for years and years. What we’re seeing now is they’re going above and beyond… and failing. And I think that’s the frustration that we see from the teachers.”
After Gregoire’s motion was seconded by District 2 board member Kellee Dickerson, things took a turn when Jeffery Cox of District 6 made a substitute motion to allow the superintendent and his staff to continue to review the “LPPS Start Strong” reopening plan and present their findings at every other School Board meeting.
Cox said the school system already has a COVID-19 committee in place — one that he and Superintendent Joe Murphy said includes teachers and parents — and that it wouldn’t make sense to make another committee “for the same thing.”
Cox’s substitute motion was seconded by Bradley Harris, of District 4, and ultimately passed on a 6-2 vote, with Gregoire and Dickerson casting the only dissenting votes. Brad Sharp, of District 1, was absent from the meeting.
Frustrated, several teachers threw their arms in the air before all walked out of the meeting.
“I hope y’all sleep good at night,” one teacher said as she walked out.
After the meeting, Gregoire said the School Board “missed a great opportunity” to work with teachers and parents amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Though he admitted not knowing the solution to all the challenges the school system is facing in a COVID-19 school year, he said it’s important to “include parents and teachers in the conversation.”
“The board missed a great opportunity to actually interact with the stakeholders in the system,” Gregoire said. “Maybe we could and maybe we couldn’t come up with a better plan, but at least we would’ve had the opportunity, and the board rejected it.”
Dickerson echoed Gregoire’s comments and said it would’ve been beneficial to include teacher input in the district’s ever-evolving plans.
“I know we have staff doing stuff behind the scenes, but we have to show [teachers and parents] that we’re committed,” she said.
Cox, however, said “it’s not true” that the school system has failed to work with teachers and parents this school year. He also said the district isn’t alone in this predicament, saying districts across the state and nation are facing the same issues amid the current public health emergency.
“If all the kids went back to school five days a week, that would solve all of this,” Cox said. “But the governor won’t allow us to do that. Our hands are tied. We want our kids back in school. We’ve never said otherwise. That would solve all of this, but our hands are tied.”
Word is spreading via social media for teachers and parents to “pack the parking lot” at the next School Board meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 17.
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