UPDATE: O’Banion ready to listen to parents, teachers, bus drivers concerns — ‘in no way is this issue over’

Published 2:56 pm Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Following the Calcasieu Parish school district’s decision not to close school despite warnings of severe weather last week, parents, teachers and bus drivers swarmed the monthly Calcasieu Parish School Board meeting on Tuesday to voice their concerns and disappointment.

On April 10, two tornadoes touched down on Lake Charles during a severe weather event. School districts in Allen, Beauregard, Cameron, Jeff Davis and Vernon parishes canceled school ahead of the incoming storm, but Calcasieu Parish did not.

As a result, parents and bus drivers faced the severe weather head-on while shuttling students to school — only for classes to be dismissed early due to outages at many campuses. This decision led to overwhelming public outcry and questions about the district’s communication methods, with many upset that CPSB did not communicate with parents until after the weather passed through the area.

Email newsletter signup

The CPSB agenda for Tuesday did not have any items that would require the board to take action — or any items regarding the weather situation last week. Public attendees could only address their concerns if the board unanimously voted to add their wish to comment to the meeting agenda.

Board member Phyllis Ayo, District 11, requested the board add an agenda item that would introduce a “formal investigation on the way the weather situation was handled last week” to “get to the facts.”

“I think we know what the public thinks. We have received emails, phone call, texts. I know some of the things that we’ve been told by various people, but as a board, I feel like we need to have a formal investigation to know exactly what happened so we know where the breakdown came from before we just fix anything.”

“Something went down, and we don’t know what that is,” Ayo said.

This request was seconded by board member Tony O’Banion, District 10.

Board president Eric Tarver, District 8, voiced his opposition to adding the agenda item. He said the item could be officially included in a future meeting agenda, which would allow for a more thorough investigation at a later date.

“It’s not a desire to not listen. It’s not a desire to not address things. We do have rules and structures about the way we do things and we’re going to follow those rules and structures.”

He also noted the law that requires a unanimous vote to add an agenda item as a way to “protect” constituents from the board.

“It’s to keep us from throwing secret things on here, discussing them and voting on them without anyone knowing about it.”

The motion to add the agenda item failed with four voting in opposition.

This decision was followed by a chorus of “boos.”

The board members who voted in opposition were Billy Breaux, District 13; Glenda Day, District 3; Dean Roberts, District 6; and Tarver.

Aaron Natali, District 1, was not present for the meeting.

After the meeting, O’Banion posted a statement on his public Facebook page to thank stakeholders for attending and state that he and nine other board members were prepared to hear public comment.

“I would have been more than willing to stay all night and hear you speak. This in no way means that this issue is over. We will still investigate the decisions that were made leading up to the events that transpired Wednesday morning.”

He stated board members received a superintendent evaluation form, and that the board will play an active role in Superintendent Shannon LaFargue’s contract renewal process.

“Regardless of that vote, this investigation will be completed.”