“We should be able to take the issues that we have to the people that we elected. We understand that everybody is not going to have answers. We didn’t expect them to come here and talk and actually have answers. But we do expect that they will just listen to our questions, listen to our dialogue and just be respectful of our constituency.”
With that purpose in mind, event organizer Wanda Triggs took to the courthouse steps on Saturday afternoon to respectfully open a dialogue between the school board and the families they represent.
Triggs, a mother herself of school-aged children, organized the “Need to Know” protest as a way for concerned individuals to be able to ask questions of the school board anonymously and without fear of retaliation. Triggs said she spoke to upwards of 100 school employees such as teachers and bus drivers, along with parents, to build a list of concerns and questions that she felt needed to be asked and answered.
“The idea [behind this event] is to be able to talk as a community about issues and concerns that we have regarding the plans to return to school after COVID-19 and have some dialogue amongst ourselves to contribute to the plan,” explained Triggs. “We invited the school board members to come. The reason why we have gathered to hold this demonstration is because we’re not able to have access to the board as a collective. I try to go through the process to go and speak to the board directly about an issue. You have to fill out a paper a week in advance, and then the one person decides if you’re going to be able to speak with the board. We’ve gone through the process; we’ve checked every box and yet, and you still aren’t allowed to speak. I want to do the right thing and just address members at the board meeting. I shouldn’t have to privately phone [members] when I’m not able to come and share my issue.”
Three of the nine Terrebonne Parish School Board members were present at the protest to hear the concerns of the public. Michael Lagarde, District 1; Greg Harding, District 2; and Matthew Ford, District 3, joined Triggs on the courthouse steps to answer questions in an hour-long conversation.
Triggs asked multiple questions of the three gentlemen, who patiently answered to the best of their ability. Questions ranged from school bus driver safety, to “isolation room” staffing, to integrity of testing in a virtual setting. Several of the questions were not able to be answered at this time, and the school board members “took note” to be able to raise those questions and concerns at their next board meeting.
Harding repeated an honest answer multiple times during the rally: “We’re entering uncharted waters; this is something new for all of us. I’ve been in the system 22 years, and I’ve never had to deal with anything like this. We’re going to get some things right. We’re going to get some things wrong. I’m not going to stand here and tell you we’re going to get it all right. The things that we get wrong, we’ve got to get better at. And we will keep trying.”
Another topic that was discussed was communication options with the public and the board. The public present at the rally felt that more steps needed to be taken to open lines of communication with parents, especially in the current age of technology.
Lagarde shared his thoughts: “I’m new on the board. And I like the old board. But they were scared of technology… we are coming in saying ‘where’s my laptop’ and being told there are none. ‘We’re going to send it to you in the mail…’ I get stacks of mail [gestures with hands apart]. Send that to me electronically! We are going to make sure you can do more than email me and be able to send in ideas.”
At the suggestion of meetings outside of formal board meetings to be able to communicate in a round table atmosphere, Ford shared his “town hall” style meetings and his struggle at getting the word out.
“Since the day I started on the board in January 2019, I’ve been having town hall meetings. I’ve been having meetings every three months at the most in my district, but it’s open to anybody. I’ve asked to make it known at board meetings, but i’ve been told I cannot announce it at a board meeting. I’ve been asked to post it on the school board’s website, but I’ve been told I can’t do that. So now that you guys are coming forward and saying this… your input may help me get that done.”
In closing, Triggs again took the mic to thank board members and the public for coming and spoke of a potential for change.
“For those board members who did not show up here today, who said you were not invited – you were aware. If you can speak to a newspaper a day ahead of time about the event, then you were aware. To the stakeholders – remember who stood with us when it comes time for the ballot box. At the end of this year, our superintendent’s contract is coming up for renewal. Because of the many problems within our school system, and the need for change, the need for transparency, the need to move us into the 21st century, I am advocating that we replace him with someone who is ready and prepared for that job. Right now it’s July. The board needs to launch a search and start searching for a new superintendent and don’t wait until November and say we didn’t have time because of Covid. Don’t say ‘it snuck up on us and we have to stay with the status quo’. So I’m going to say publicly…I think that the board needs to start its search and form a committee to replace Mr. Martin.”
Stay with the Times as we dive into the list of questions posed to board members at the rally and their responses.