Catahoula Parish Superintendent releases statement on issues

Local News
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(2/6/19) The Catahoula Parish School System has released a statement following student protests and issues raised by the community.

Dr. Gwile Paul Freeman, Superintendent of the Catahoula Parish School System, issued the following statement:

Over the past several months, the Catahoula Parish School Board and this office have been vilified in the print and television media by a small group of people, some of whom are parents and others who are from outside the parish and state. The Board and I chose not to respond publicly. Rather, we have met with the parents and area residents to address their concerns. Despite our best efforts, complete and accurate facts have not been provided by the media. As a result, we take this opportunity to provide factual information.

1) Despite the complaints of the students and parents, Block High School earned a grade of “B” on its latest School Performance Score (SPS) from the State. Block received a “C” the year before. Block’s grade is the same as that received by Harrisonburg High School and Sicily Island High School.

2) Representatives of the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) toured all schools in Catahoula Parish in May 2018 and reported no issues with the facilities of Block High School.

3) Block High School is not a one-race school. As of October 1, 2018, the racial composition of the students at Block High School was 58.5% Black, 39.4% White, and 2.1% Hispanic.

4) School Board attorneys and those employed by the USDOJ have been in frequent contact relative to Catahoula Parish schools, and our efforts to attain unitary status are moving forward. At no time did the Board ignore its obligations to its students.

5) The videos posted on YouTube and on certain TV stations are part of the continuing efforts of a handful of people to place Block High School in a negative light. These videos do not accurately reflect the current condition of the facilities at Block High School. For instance, the paint-stained carpet shown in one video was actually the old carpet in the school that was being used as a drop cloth while painting was ongoing. When that painting was completed, the old carpet was removed and replaced with new carpet.

6) Over the last 5 years, the Board has made substantial renovations and repairs to the facility at Block High School. Indeed, the amount spent on facilities at Block has far exceeded the amount spent on any other school. Such work included air quality testing which revealed no issues as early as September 2018 and as recently as February 3, 2019.

7) In 2007, the Board purchased a tract of land in a central location and put before the taxpayers of Catahoula Parish a bond issue that, if passed, would have generated the funding needed to build a new consolidated high school approximately four (4) miles outside of the Town of Jonesville. The tax proposition failed at every voting booth in the parish, including every voting booth in Jonesville where Block High School is located. Overall, more than 76% of the votes cast were against the proposition.

8) Every student at Block High School is provided with a Chromebook, which includes the textbooks used in each of the classes.

9) The Board has undertaken numerous efforts to recruit and retain certified teachers at Block High School.

10) The CLIP Grant was sought and has been obtained to fund a stipend to student teachers and college tuition for those college students who agree to return to Block High School to teach following graduation.

11) The Board has voted to seek Court approval to close Jonesville Junior High School and place its 6 th and 7 th grade students on the campus of Block High School, thereby increasing the number of certified teachers available to students there.

12) The Board conducted a community forum in September 2018 to discuss to address the concerns of parents and students about Block High School.

13) Representatives of the District’s administration met with parent representatives on at least two other occasions to discuss their concerns. Such meetings were held both at the school and at the District office.

14) The Board has conducted two meetings during which parents, students, and others have been allowed to address the Board with their concerns about Block High School.

15) Many of the concerns raised about Block High School have been addressed. For instance, some parents and students complained about block schedules, and the Board agreed to return to 8-hour days, as requested.

16) Some parents and students complained about student desks and stated a preference to sit at tables. The Board agreed to replace the desks with tables as requested.

17) I personally met with the students of Block High School in the fall of 2018 to address their concerns.

18) Many parents have stepped up and have engaged in an open, professional dialog. For those parents who continue to work with us and who know and share the truth, we offer our sincere thanks.

The Catahoula Parish School District is a small, rural district not unlike many other districts in North Central and Northeast Louisiana. Its buildings are all in need of renovation; however, since funding for education in Louisiana is based upon student enrollment and local tax collections, the school district cannot afford new schools or substantial remodeling. Despite these financial shortcomings, student learning is occurring in all schools across the parish. In fact, few parishes can boast of having every high school with an “A” or “B” rating, as is found in Catahoula Parish with Block High, Central High, Harrisonburg High, and Sicily Island High. For three consecutive years, Catahoula Parish has received a District Letter Grade of “B”. The district’s teachers and employees deserve credit for what they have accomplished. They do not deserve the unfair treatment and unfounded allegations which they have received. Freedom of speech is a right granted to all citizens of this great country, and this statement is not intended to chill that right in any way. At the same time, however, I would urge individuals to check the facts before speaking out in ways that can be detrimental to students, the school, and the community

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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