DENHAM SPRINGS – A parent’s request to transfer her children to a Denham Springs elementary school faces a hearing, but also could end up in court.
The Livingston Parish School Board voted Thursday, Sept. 6, to have the board president name a three-person committee that would hold a hearing on student school assignments.
Morgan Wesley has requested her son, a first-grader, and daughter, a kindergartner, be allowed to enroll at Eastside Elementary.
Wesley said Sunday that she has made several requests to enroll her children at Eastside but has been denied or told there is no room. The Wesley family purchased a home in the Lakes at North Park subdivision in northeastern Denham Springs, believing their children would be enrolled in the school.
Her transfer request goes back to March, when her son found and ingested a prescription drug pill he found on his school bus, and the situation has continued to play out on social media.
Posts on Facebook and TigerDroppings.com have covered what happened in March and also commented on conditions at Walker Elementary, including the number of new teachers this year.
Wesley said she home-schooled her son for the rest of the 2017-18 school year and is now home-schooling both him and her daughter.
In a meeting with School Board attorney Mark Boyer, Wesley said she was told since her children were not enrolled in the parish, she could not make a transfer request; they had to be enrolled first.
If denied a transfer request, Wesley said she told Boyer the issue could go to court.
Jill Craft has been hired as her attorney, she said.
Wesley said she is waiting to be notified when the hearing will be held.
Superintendent Rick Wentzel said he could not comment about individual students, citing their right to privacy.
“We can’t respond in social media,” said Bruce Chaffin, human resources supervisor. “We respond on an individual basis (to the family). We have to respect the privacy of the children.”
Chaffin did address the issue of teacher turnover, a problem both in the Livingston school system and around the state, he said.
Walker Elementary has “17 new faces” on the faculty since the end of the school year in May, he said.
“As an example, when I became human resources director in 2012, there were 55 new faces at teacher orientation. This year we had 199,” Chaffin said.
“There is turnover at every school,” Superintendent Wentzel said, “recruiting is hard.”
Asked about Walker Elementary, Wentzel said, “I think we do a good job at every one of our schools. Our staff at every school is not in it for the money or glory or Facebook fame. They are true servants.
“We take everything with concern. With 26,000 kids and 3,000 employees, not everything runs smoothly every day.”
If a situation comes up and there is no protocol to address it, Wentzel said, a new protocol is drawn up.
“We field calls all the time (from parents with new issues). We address those needs,” he said.
REQUESTS FOR TRANSFER
When Wesley first requested a school transfer in March, it was denied she said.
The week before the 2018-19 school year began, Wesley said she went to Eastside Elementary, but was told they were not taking children from her neighborhood.
When the Wesleys bought their home in the Lakes at North Park subdivision, near Burgess Road and Lockhart Road, they thought their children would attend Eastside Elementary.
“We bought here to go to Eastside,” Morgan Wesley said. “My nieces go there.”
Wesley said she has filed three public records requests during her transfer efforts. One of the issues is how many first-graders are enrolled at the school.
She said she showed them the law that said if a school is not at capacity they have to take students. The count was 84 in first grade, she said, 88 the previous year.
Wesley said she did not hear from Eastside until three or four days after school started and was told they had 85 students in first grade.
“They had room for three,” Wesley said. “I asked Boyer if I could go enroll them and he said there was no space."
She went to Eastside and said she was told by the principal they were not taking children from her neighborhood and any change would have to come from the superintendent.
Asked the enrollment and told it was 87, Wesley said she replied, “So you have room for one more.”
She said she was unable to arrange a meeting with Wentzel, but met with the school system attorney, Boyer. She said she first asked about the transfer and Boyer told her that she would not get the transfer.
“I had the enrollment count for the past 10 years. He said he was not going to look at it,” Wesley said.
Wesley also accused Boyer of shipping information to her employer in 'hopes to get her in trouble.' Her employer has since informed her that she would not be reprimanded for her efforts with the school system.
“It’s been tough,” Wesley said about the transfer fight. “I didn’t know about transfer rules before this.”
Her son missed his kindergarten graduation, she said.
“It was a milestone he missed. It’s the little things that are important to a parent,” Wesley said. “Our kids have asked why they can’t go to school with their friends.”
Wesley concluded by saying she didn’t feel her children were safe at Walker Elementary, due in part to the faculty issues, but the mostly the way the drug issue was handled.
A DAY IN MARCH
Wesley said her son’s last day of school was the day he found the pill on his bus. Her son and another student got it on their hands and her son ingested part of it.
Walker police later identified it as Vyvanse, a prescription drug used to treat attention deficit disorder.
Her son got on the bus at 7:30 a.m. and the bus driver called Walker Elementary at 8:10 a.m. to report it, Wesley said, but Wesley was not contacted until 9 a.m.
Wesley said she started asking questions of Principal Bonnie Cox after being told the school was not notified.
She said she was told the school was doing an investigation “to make sure it didn’t come from your home.”
“I understand that. I asked them if they checked my son,” or if a school nurse examined him, she said.
“Mrs. Cox got very defensive (after that question),” Wesley remembered.
Wesley contacted her family physician and was told to bring her son in. The doctor wanted to know what the pill was. When she called Cox back to see if they knew what type of pill her son ingested, she said Cox told her to call the School Board and that the Walker Police Department was investigating (the incident).
But Wesley said when she contacted the police, an officer told her she was the first person to call about the incident.
The officer was able to identify the pill, she said.
His teacher also was not aware of his exposure to the pill, Wesley said.