Parents protest LaPlace Elementary principal’s removal

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, September 27, 2017

LAPLACE — Allison Cupit was reinstated as principal of LaPlace Elementary School Monday morning, following the dismissal of Dr. Fawn Ukpolo Friday afternoon.

A group of parents rallied in support of Ukpolo Monday in a peaceful protest in front of the school, eager to have their voices heard.

Dr. Fawn Ukpolo

The change in administration followed controversy within the school district and community over the safety of the school bus transportation system after a kindergarten student was misplaced, but Ukpolo said the bus situation was not the only challenge she faced in her six-week duration as principal.

“I wasn’t given a reason for my firing, but 12 days after the start of the school year, Superintendent George came in and told me he was very disappointed with my performance,” Ukpolo said.

“He said he was receiving more complaints about me from parents at LaPlace Elementary than from all the other schools combined. I asked to see these complaints, or anything in writing, so I could address it, but this was not made available to me.”

Ukpolo, who is being transferred to Fifth Ward Elementary School in Reserve to teach third grade, said she evaluated LaPlace Elementary’s ratings and took initiative to make changes.

New practices include opening more lines of communication between teachers and parents, introducing an app for parents to view their child’s grades, redecorating hallways, extending brain breaks, pushing for the school to use a free educational program available through the state and allocating teachers to new positions.

“Coming into the school this year, I’m an outsider,” Ukpolo said. “As an outsider, you can see things that need to be improved. I wasn’t given much opportunity to bring change.”

Regarding the bus situation, Ukpolo said she was made aware of it after the child’s mother, Dara Bouy, approached her. She contacted the Department of Transportation and cc’d Superintendent George, but she believes the problem lies within policy.

“In other parishes, students are assigned to buses based on their home address,” Ukpolo said. “Here, parents pick the bus, so you end up with several buses having to take two loads of kids, making it harder for kids to understand when they are supposed to get on the bus. We let out of school at 2:40 p.m., and we have kids waiting here until after 4 p.m.”

Superintendent Kevin George said he could not comment on the reasons behind Ukpolo’s dismissal, as it is a personnel matter.

He said his decision to assign Cupit as principal was made with the best interest of the children in mind.

“I find when there is a change in administration in the middle of the school year, it is best to place someone the faculty and community is already familiar with to give students the best chance of successfully finishing the school year,” George said. “Ms. Cupit previously served as principal at LaPlace Elementary and has taught for many years. I believe she is the best person for this position.”

According to LaPlace Elementary School parent Deloris Anderson, there had been talk amongst students, teachers and parents for two weeks that Ukpolo would be fired.

She said some teachers wore red pants in support of Cupit returning as principal.

Dispelling rumors that the information was purposefully kept from Ukpolo for two weeks, George said his decision to change personnel was not made until 3 p.m. Friday.

Parents attending the protest Monday morning were upset they did not have a say in the decision, and some said they would do whatever it takes to stand in support of Ukpolo.

“She’s done wonders for the school in 30 days,” said Terri Brumfield, mother of several LES students. “She’s holding teachers accountable and making them post grades.”

Brumfield described the school before Ukpolo as a “prison” where students were given no right to expression or opportunity for fun and had whistles blown in their faces.

“LaPlace has been a teacher-first school for years. Dr. U has made it kid-first, parent-first. My kids have been excited to come to school,” she said.

Other parents said Monday that they were planning a peaceful march along the bus line.

LES parent Shondrell Perrilloux is hungry for answers. She said she reached out to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education weeks ago, and has heard no response.

“These parents are demanding answers from the school board and superintendent,” Perrilloux said. “We demand to know why parents weren’t contacted about these issues, and we demand BESE be present at the Town Hall meeting Oct. 26.  We’re getting the FBI involved. This is urgent.”

— By Brooke Robichaux