Public schools finalize preparations for October 18 reopening

Published 8:00 am Saturday, October 16, 2021

LAPLACE — As St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools prepare to open for the first time since Hurricane Ida on October 18, the District has been blessed with support from within the community and beyond.

Fifth Ward Elementary, East St. John Preparatory Academy, and Garyville/Mt. Airy Magnet School awarded $50,000 from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to support teaching and learning. Meanwhile, community partner Marathon will be delivering 3,500 backpacks to school sites for scholars to replace supplies lost during Hurricane Ida.

Another large donation of person and cleaning supplies from the Rapides Parish School Board was distributed at East St. John Preparatory Academy on October 13, and Ochsner Health System has donated $3,300 in school supplies to aid local children in recovery efforts.

“Rainbows always appear after the storm,” said Rebecca Werner-Johnson, director of school improvement, federal & state programs. “Our great district has shown resiliency, compassion, and most of all, we are all here and focused on what is best for our district and our wonderful scholars.”

Werner-Johnson reviewed a return-to-school plan that was issued to the School Board last week, detailing platoon schedules for the Phase One Reopening at East St. John Prep, West St. John High School, Leon Godchaux, Lake Pontchartrain Elementary and Fifth Ward Elementary.

Only minor revisions have been made to the reopening plans, which can be accessed at

St. John Alternative Program students will now attend school during the morning shift at the East St. John Prep campus. Additionally, East St. John High School will be the only school occupying the Leon Godchaux campus.

West St. John Elementary is the only school that will not have its Pre-K scholars attending the morning shift. Rather, the WSJE pre-K through seventh grade students will attend West St. John High School in the afternoon shift. Administration said this will prevent the youngest scholars from having to share restrooms and other school facilities with high schoolers.

Superintendent Dr. Lynett Hookfin said the Phase One schools are safe and ready to welcome scholars on Monday. School sites have been approved by mitigation teams, an industrial hygienist, the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Department of Health.

“I want the staff and families to clearly understand that our buildings are safe. Our buildings are ready to receive scholars. All safety precautions have been taken,” Hookfin said.

While Lake Pontchartrain Elementary has been cleared to welcome students, the cafeteria and kitchen will remain closed off for the time being, according to Cindy Janecke with All South Consulting Engineers.

In a update on District facilities presented to the School Board on Thursday evening, Janecke shared that the STEM campus should be ready to welcome scholars next week.

All STEM scholars will attend school virtually on Monday, October 18. Scholars will return to in-person learning on Tuesday, October 19 inside the STEM building on East St. John’s campus.

Janecke added that Garyville/Mt. Airy Magnet and John L. Ory are expected to open by November 1 as part of the Phase Two plan. Also included in Phase Two is the West St. John Elementary Early Childhood building for Headstart through third grade.

However, critical repairs at some schools may not be complete until the summer of 2022.

“The two schools that will take the longest are Emily C. Watkins and LaPlace Elementary,” Janecke said, citing that extensive HVAC, roof and remediation work is required before students can enter the buildings.

When schools open on Monday, students from ECW and LaPlace Elementary will be platooning on the Lake Pontchartrain Elementary campus.

During the School Board meeting, newly hired LPE Principal Dr. Kara Lawson shared her commitment to working closely with principals Peri Eldridge and Zina Jones. Together, they have ensured students at their three respective schools will have every necessary resource on the LPE campus.

“We have toured the building, assigned specific classrooms, divided classrooms in the same grade level areas. We have signage up, and teachers will be out to direct students on where to go,” Lawson said. “We have taken on this challenge, we have accepted it, and we are going to make it work for all of the children in St. John the Baptist Parish.”

School Board member Debbie Schum advised finding a site to house Emily C. Watkins and LaPlace Elementary students in the near future, emphasizing that platooning should only be a temporary solution.

“I really think we need to be able to give parents and students a more definitive answer. I think we are creating an extreme hardship for all the parents, especially working parents, who have to right now figure out a way to get their kids off to school or pick their kids up from school (in the middle of the day). This may lead to them placing their scholars in another school system,” Schum said.

The need for childcare was also addressed during Thursday’s School Board meeting. While District employees will have access to childcare, there is not yet a plan in place regarding childcare for scholars.

“This will resolve itself when more buildings open extremely soon,” Dr. Hookfin said.

She added that the District has reached out to New Wine Christian Fellowship to learn more about aftercare programs in the community.