S.J. Welsh, LeBlanc Middle schools closed today due to COVID

Published 6:11 am Wednesday, January 12, 2022

S.J. Welsh Middle School in Lake Charles and LeBlanc Middle School in Sulphur are closed today and Thursday due to COVID-19 illness and exposure. One-third of staff at both campuses are out due to the virus, Holly Holland, spokeswoman for the district, said.

Staff absences combined with limited substitute teachers have forced the closure. Virtual learning opportunities will be available for students based on staff availability and all students have been assigned a device to take home for online learning, Holland said.

“At this time, we do not expect these days to require make-up days,” she added.

During Tuesday’s board meeting, Karl Bruchhaus, CPSB superintendent, said the district anticipates reopening the campuses on Friday. COVID-19 related absences are currently running high across the entire district, he said.

“We’ve processed 550 employees since we got back from the Christmas break who since Sunday night had the virus or were in direct contact … that’s equated to 3,400 employee absences in seven days.”

Similarly, 1,321 students have been absent due to the virus resulting in 3,877 absences. Only one month earlier, only 64 students had COVID-related absences.

“That tells you what Omicron has done,” he said.

While the numbers are high, he praised the work of staff and faculty for making the best of the situation. “They’ve been doing an outstanding job bandaiding things together here. We’re going to keep doing that.”

In other news, the district is still awaiting FEMA reimbursement for permanent work on hurricane damaged facilities, Bruchhaus said.  While 46 permanent projects have been completed, “We have not received one dollar for our permanent projects yet from FEMA,” he said.

FEMA’s agreement is to pay on progress billing but that’s only once the project is approved by the federal organization, he said. Numerous projects have been turned into FEMA including a $19 million project at W.W. Lewis Middle School.

CPSB has paid $14 million dollars of Lewis’ bills but reimbursement has yet to be made due to lack of approval, Bruchhaus said. “They’re going to do virtual site visits to get the projects approved…No boots on the ground FEMA person has stepped foot in a Calcasieu Parish school since the hurricane.”

The lack of response, however, is one-sided. “We’ve turned in over 20,000 pictures…The consultant has rewritten the reports multiple time. We’re on the third module of that.”

Despite the slow nature of the process, Bruchhaus said, “We’re battling every day.”Many permanent projects are yet to be bid out due to the lack of FEMA reimbursement but “as soon as that (reimbursement) starts clicking, we’ll go to the market,” he said.