School district responds to Talaija Dorsey’s passing

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, July 29, 2014

By Stephen Hemelt

ST. JAMES — Talaija Dorsey would have started the seventh grade at St. James High School this school year.

Following the discovery of her body this month, many in the community have felt the 12-year-old’s loss, and school leaders are preparing for the sensitive situation sure to face her former classmates.

Sheriff Willy Martin Jr. discovered Talaija’s body July 6 at the edge of a cane field along Louisiana 3127. John D. Celestine, who was engaged to Talaija’s mother, is charged with first-degree murder in relation to the case.

Talaija was first reported missing July 1.

Gaynell Albert, administrative director of student services for St. James Parish Schools, said counselor Laura Poirier has prepared a presentation for Talaija’s former classmates when they arrive at St. James High to start the seventh grade.

Talaija recently finished sixth grade at Fifth Ward Elementary School.

“Because of the tragic type of death that it was, we feel we need to do some type of sharing with those students to make sure they understand what happened — that it is alright to grieve her but to remember her in a positive way,” Albert said. “We are looking out for the best interests of the students that we serve.”

Poirier, a licensed clinical social worker, said the seventh graders would be on campus Friday for an orientation session before joining the entire school population for the first official day of classes Aug. 8.

“We’re going to have a moment of silence for (Talaija on Friday,)” Poirier said. “We’re going to break up the students into four different groups and handle different activities. I will be providing them with information about the resources here at school with regard to any concern they have regarding abuse. We’ll also be covering any social issue, bullying, things like that.”

Poirier said students would be made aware that counseling services are available at all times if they need to talk to her.

“I will introduce myself to them and work with them (Friday) in small groups to have an overall discussion,” Poirier said. “We wanted it to be separate from the general population.”

District 1 School Board member Diana Cantillo commended the district’s response at this month’s school board meeting.

“Just me, I didn’t know the child, but the pain as a mother and grandmother consumed me,” Cantillo said. “The family needs that help too. I would like to commend (Superintendent) Dr. (Alonzo) Luce for allowing use of the school. Hopefully, that never happens again in our area. So much is going on in our world today that we need to be there for these children.”

Luce said the sheriff called him early in the search for Talaija, requesting use of Fifth Ward Elementary School as a staging ground.

“Soon the FBI and everybody else started showing up, and they had multiple wings of the building set up as an operations center to find that girl,” Luce said. “The sheriff even offered to come back and take care of some of the (cleaning).

“We said ‘don’t worry about it, we’re appreciate what you guys did to find her quickly.’ So we’re covering the cleaning. They were very gracious and worked very well with us through the process.”