Eastbank schools set to reopen today, westbank still day to day

Aaron Looney

Public schools on the parish’s east bank are scheduled to reopen today, more than a week after Hurricane Gustav tore through Ascension Parish and much of southeast Louisiana.

Superintendent of Schools Donald Songy made the announcement Saturday during an emergency School Board meeting held at East Ascension High School.

“We will run a regular schedule,” Songy said. “There will not be an early dismissal, as previously scheduled. All school buses will run their regular routes at their scheduled times.”

While all schools on the parish’s east bank were expected to have power restored to start classes Tuesday, west bank schools were still closed because of power outages at the sites.

When the students will return to classes there is still in doubt, public information officer Johnnie Balfantz said Monday morning.

“Power companies are working very hard to restore power to Donaldsonville,” Balfantz said. “Our schools are a top priority and the power companies hope to have power restored soon.”

The first day power is restored, westbank school employees will report to schools to prepare the facilities for the students, Balfantz said. The following day, students will report to school.

The board has numerous options to ensure west bank students can return to classes, dependent on when power is restored. These include possible use of a large mobile generator to power at least one school site or possibly moving the students to eastbank facilities until power is restored at their home schools.

Songy said Saturday that such a move, if necessary, would not take place this week.

“It depends on how many days we’re talking about being without power,” Songy said. “If it’s long term, we may have to look at relocating. If it’s just a couple of days, we may just keep the students out of school until power is back up.”

Assistant Superintendent Patrice Pujol said that such an undertaking would take anywhere from four and seven days to determine logistics..

Jeff Parent, the system’s supervisor of maintenance, said that all but three east bank schools had full power as of Saturday, while all three campuses on the west bank were still without electricity.

Songy said that the relocation plan came about Friday afternoon during a meeting of central office staff and school principals

Board member Catherine Davis, who represents the west bank, expressed her displeasure with relocating students when many of their homes still do not have power. She said she was “baffled with how this will work.”

“I am not comfortable with moving students,” Davis said. “I know there’s nothing I can do about it. You can move forward with this, but you’ll be doing it without my vote. It’s not good for the west bank.”

Davis said that misinformation had spread to her district about when schools would reopen. She asked Songy and the central office staff to keep board members in the know when any decisions are made as to reopening of schools.

“The board needed to know these plans as soon as possible,” Davis said. “This information needs to come to us first.”

After some parents and system employees in the audience questioned if the school district was moving too quickly to reopen schools, Songy said that students or employees that were unable to return to work this week would not be penalized.

Plans for makeup days will be communicated at a later date, Balfantz said Monday. School system officials have previously stated that classes will be held Friday, Sept. 19, which was a previously scheduled student holiday.

Denise Heisser, the school system’s director of child nutrition, said that as of Saturday, all but six schools - Dutchtown High School, Pecan Grove Primary School, Gonzales Primary School, Duplessis Primary School., Oak Grove Primary School and G. W. Carver Primary School - would possibly be serving select portions of packaged meals ready to eat, or MREs, to students for at least the first day back in session.

The meals would be served until kitchen services are restored and food supplies are replenished, Heisser said. She added that by Thursday, schools should have milk, juice and a wholesome food item for distribution.

Heisser also said that most schools would likely not be serving breakfast to students for at least a week.

The Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge also reported Monday that St. Theresa School in Gonzales and St. John School in Prairieville would open for classes today Students had bus service, but were asked to bring bag lunches Tuesday.  Officials said regular cafeteria service would begin Wednesday.

The diocese also announced that Ascension Catholic Elementary and High schools in Donaldsonville would continue to be closed until Monday, Sept. 15.

River Parishes Community College will resume classes Wednesday, officials there said.