Teachers, staff members and parents of students in the Terrebonne Parish School District are set to participate in a “Need to Know” protest at the Terrebonne Parish Courthouse on Saturday to voice concerns surrounding the school district’s COVID-19 protocols and response ahead of the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
The demonstration precedes the school board’s July 21 meeting and follows TPSD’s announcement this week that it pushed back the start of the school year to Sept. 8 in response to the latest surge of COVID-19 cases in Terrebonne Parish.
Organizer Wanda Triggs said the protest was arranged in response to concerns she’s received from parents, staff and teachers within the school district regarding whether or not the appropriate protocols are being put into place to protect students and employees from the spread of the virus.
As a parent of an immunocompromised son, Triggs is especially concerned about the way schools in the district will operate moving forward. She said that she has seen comprehensive reopening plans coming out of other school districts, including that of Lafourche Parish, and feels like TPSD’s plan “wasn’t made of anything.”
“As school systems around us started to unveil their plan, ours really has not,” Triggs said. “I saw that…they had a few small things that they intend to do, but the plan is not detailed enough. It wasn’t clear enough, and we don’t believe that it provides for enough protections for the students first, and the teachers as well.”
Triggs said that after attending the school board’s latest meeting and speaking with upwards of 50 TPSD teachers, bus drivers and principals, she does not feel that TPSD’s plan for reopening is detailed enough. For example, she believes it places COVID-19 regulations and responses into the hands of each individual school, which especially causes a disconnect for parents with children at varying schools.
She raised questions over what schools’ responses will look like if a teacher or student tests positive for COVID-19, including the handling of substitute teachers and accessibility to testing.
“From what I understand, people are going to urgent care, where a test costs $60. We want those people to not have to be concerned about a $60 payment if you become symptomatic or you were exposed to someone who became symptomatic,” Triggs said.
She also noted concerns over a lack of advertisements for the hiring of more custodians or nurses to carry out health and sanitization protocols, as well as the process for bus transportation with social distancing guidelines.
“There are a whole lot of things that needed to be planned better,” Triggs said. “Bus drivers are going to be the first line of defense. That’s who those kids first [contact] in the morning. There’s some concern about how they’re going to social distance on buses. None of those conversations have been had.”
Triggs said that if the public learned anything amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that teachers are “a very important factor to society.” TPSD teachers love their students and want to return to work, she said, but they want to have input in the plans for reopening to ensure everyone’s safety.
“Teachers are ready to go back to work. They want some type of normalcy, but they want to be safe. They want protections. We want to see the teachers be able to get tested at school immediately. We want to know the plan if someone tests positive,” Triggs said.
Triggs feels that there has been an overall lack of an opportunity for parents, teachers and staff to ask questions and offer their input surrounding TPSD’s handling of COVID-19 protocols.
Above all, concerned individuals involved with TPSD schools are seeking transparency from leaders.
“A number of us showed up at the last board meeting. Many people feel that they cannot talk to their school board member or can’t talk to them collectively without going through the superintendent,” Triggs said. “We, as the parents, the citizens, the teachers…we have not been made stakeholders in these decisions…We are stakeholders, and we want to be a part of the process.”
The protest will begin at 5:30 p.m. and will feature an anonymous question box for those wishing to voice concerns. Triggs said that school board members have been invited to the protest.