The Terrebonne Parish School Board met Tuesday with a couple of items that sparked emotional discussions for community members, parents, and educators.
School Board Member and Vice-Chairman Matthew Ford said he thought the meeting had a good discussion and although it was a little out of the ordinary, there are times that these discussions are needed. “I always appreciate them because we actually have community members involved and voice their opinions. That’s always a good thing,” he said. Not only is he a school board member, but he is also a high school educator in Lafourche Parish, so he does get first-hand insight on these issues.
The two matters that were the most controversial were a matter pertaining to replacing the uniform policy and the matter pertaining to implementing a full day A/B, in-person/live virtual, schedule for the four public high schools. The proposal would have implemented a full day A/B schedule for the high schools in lieu of the current platooning schedule of 36 daily minutes, per subject, beginning in January 2022.
Ford said either for or against the A/B, he’d like to think that he is doing the right thing for his district, and the only way to do that other than to post on social media and get feedback is for people to actually go to the meetings. He said he received around 75 messages about the proposed scheduling and of those 75 messages, he only had two people that contacted him because they were in favor of A/B. The rest were opposed to the new schedule proposal.
He said he knows that people have their reasons for their choices and those reasons are justified, “I always like to remind people that I’m an educator first and I’m more concerned with the students than I am with anyone else,” he said, “I am concerned about employees and other stakeholders such as community members, parents, and guardians, but first and foremost, it’s the kids.” He said they tried the A/B virtual in Lafourche last year. Not only did Lafourche try the schedule, but he noted it was done throughout Louisiana and other states. He said the scores and data are all that they have to go by and the statistics were overwhelming showing that it didn’t work. In states such as Texas and Florida where they didn’t have as much virtual learning, their scores were considerably better. He said generally, their scores may be a little higher than our students, but the disparity between the low scores and high scores with our students were much greater than it was for those states. He said he thinks it’s a direct result of virtual learning vs. in-person learning.
Ford said the A/B proposal is great when you have students who are motivated and eager to learn, but he said that’s not a majority of the population, it’s the minority. When COVID hit, schools had to adapt, and for a while, it was strictly virtual learning. He said scores were considerably lower. Last year, he said the whole school was virtual for the first two weeks and hybrid for the rest of the year. Of his students that stayed virtual the whole year, 88 percent failed. He said if he counted right now, he has about 15 students in his class last year as virtual learners that are in his class again. For the most part, they are failing once again. “I don’t think it’s because they can’t do the work, I think they’re just defeated,” he said. He said he thinks they feel like they were shorted last year and maybe they were anticipating being able to just pass and move on. He also explained how the virtual learning program worked. “All they had to do as virtual last year was to complete the E2020 stuff,” he said. He explained that it didn’t matter if they completed it on day ten of virtual, or 179, it just had to be done by the end of the school year. The grade was based on what the student did throughout the entire academic year. “I had students that finished with 23 percent of the coursework done,” he said, “They didn’t even get through a quarter of the coursework because they simply weren’t mature enough and not driven enough to do that.” This brings up a point on how one policy may not fit the needs of all students. He noted that some students may not have the support system to be successful at home, some students need the structure simply because they don’t have the determination to learn and the maturity to ignore the temptation of distractions.
He went on to outline a normal day when they were on the hybrid schedule last year: he got up at 4:30 a.m., by 5 a.m. he was making videos for the students, by 6:30 the videos were posted, and by 7:15 he would begin checking to see who was logging in, watching the videos, and doing the work. He said he would check back periodically to keep track of the progress. He noted they didn’t conduct virtual like it was done in Terrebonne Parish where the teachers sat in front of their computer and had to monitor the students, “and I don’t know if that’s better or worse, but that’s not how we did things,” he said. They did a hybrid A/B schedule where the students were virtual one day and in class the next day. What he found was every time he posted an assignment, it was his students that were attentive at school were the same three or four students that would proactively pull up the videos and watch it to be ready in class with questions. “That’s not what it was intended for,” he said.
Another thing Ford noted that takes away from instructional time is enforcing the uniform policy. He believes one of the great distractors has been the uniform policy, and although it was created to try to decrease the number of distractors, he said it has actually become one of the biggest ones. “Every class period it takes away time from instruction because they’re having to deal with dress code issues,” he said. He pointed out that students are prone to pick and be judgemental and it’s, unfortunately, a part of adolescence that most people grow out of. He said students today express themselves so much different than he did when they were young. “Having them wear a T-shirt that’s their favorite shirt, or favorite pair of jeans, if that’s going to help them improve their confidence and attentiveness in class,” he said,” then I’m all for it.” He noted that they don’t know if a new policy would actually work or fail because they have never tried it since the late 90s since it was implemented in the parish. This led to him sharing he thinks it’s time to refocus. He said he doesn’t believe to alleviate the entire uniform policy, but instead, replace what they have with a dress code. “If I’m being philosophical and talking about where uniform policies come from, we may have started off with that,” he said, ” but in the last 21 years, it has deflected away from that.”
He said he sees daily issues with the policy such as pants being too tight or so loose they are falling off, and although some have told him the kids would comment that if there was not a school uniform policy, they would do the same thing. “If they’re doing it now, so it’s not the uniform policy that’s the problem, it’s the policing thereof,” he said. He said there’s inconsistency, and it adds another level of stress not only to the students but to the parents that have to go find the uniforms, especially after a hurricane that has ravaged the whole town. “I think there are other things we can be focusing on and that’s what I hope t have brought out in the meeting the other night, but it did get heated,” he said.
There was a comment on a community Facebook page from a high school senior that voiced her opinion saying she felt rushed in the current learning environment. In response, Ford said he thinks sometimes it’s a perceived rush, but they instructed everyone to take their time. He said they focused on getting the students in the classroom learning but did not worry so much about the deadlines at the end of the year. “It’s going to come,” he said,” we just need them in class and learning something, so they don’t sit at home wallowing in this whole situation and worrying even more.” He said there may be a perceived rush from those students that do take the initiative to learn, but if teachers are putting that pressure on them, then he would like them to know that they shouldn’t be. They should be focusing on the fundamentals of teaching, the fundamentals of being a student, and trying to develop a routine of some sort especially with the shortened class periods where they’re more efficient and getting straight to the point.
There is also a conflict of the time in the classrooms. He said he did the math and explained that if a student is in class for ten days in two weeks and they’re getting 36 minutes per class period, that’s 360 minutes. However, if they go to virtual or a hybrid A/B, they are in class five of those ten days and at most 53 minutes. So five times 53 is 265 minutes of in-person learning. So where you’d be getting 360 minutes going every day, you would only be getting 265 minutes going every other day, he explained. He said those gaps could be filled at home, but the gaps could also still be filled with the current schedule.
He said they are trying to get portables at the high schools, but the problem they are having is getting the portables built and brought in because there isn’t an abundance of portables where they can simply purchase and bring them to where they are needed. He said they have to get them made, brought in, and then they have to get them set up. One issue he said they are running into is let’s say they get the portables ready to deliver tomorrow, they still have to clear things with FEMA because they are counting on the agency to help rebuild. Also, if they are to rebuild or repair, they cannot have onsite buildings in the area they are going to be doing it. He noted that if they had a property where it wasn’t costing them anything and they can bring all of the portables set up on the property away from the campuses, then they can do that. “But truth in the matter,” he said,” is we don’t have this land, the land is hard to come by, especially in this area.” Like many have found out the hard way, there are regulations and guidelines when it comes to working with FEMA. “It’s not like they say, we’ll let you slide this time, it’s to the T,” he said.
“Everybody has an opinion and I appreciate their opinion one way or another,” he said. He said he doesn’t expect everyone to be supportive of him or be on his side,” but like I said in the closing speech before the vote on A/B, if I am doing my job as a District 3 school board member, and if I’m representing my district and constituency adequately, I’m voting against the A/B and virtual.” He said that vote is because no one in his district has contacted him and encouraged him to try to pursue the new schedule. In fact, he said out of the 75 plus people that have contacted him, maybe 40 of them were from his district, and those people all had the same opinion: they need to keep what they have right now. He said it may not be the best thing, but they are working it out. “The last thing I said at the meeting was, and I’ll say this until the day I die,” he said, “consistency should always trump fairness. Fairness is a perception, what is fair to you may not be fair to me, and vice versa. So, fairness is never something that we should be striving for. We should always be striving for consistency because consistency is measurable, it’s quantitative, and it brings results.”