Parents voice displeasure over school masking policy

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Supt. of Schools Dr. Grant Eloi, standing at center of picture, talks to a group of parents who attended the school board meeting Jan. 13 to protest their children having to wear masks to school. Seated in black coat with back to camera is immediate past president Steve Harris and standing at left is school board member Emile Metoyer. Several other school board members were also at the meeting but are not in the picture. Photo by Carolyn Roy

Carolyn Roy |News Editor
A group of parents unhappy about the school board masking policy wanted to be heard after the school board meeting Jan. 13.
A deputy was on duty and cautioned the group of about 10 people when they entered the meeting room that they would have to wear masks. Despite their protests, they complied when the deputy furnished them with masks. They sat quietly during the meeting but were surprised when the meeting was adjourned and board members began to leave.
As the board members started for the door, there were shouts of “You should want to listen to us,” “This means you don’t care about your constituents,” “These are Natchitoches people. We voted you in,” and “Can you not hear parents?”
Board members Tan’Keia Palmer and Emile Metoyer tried to explain the process for getting to speak but were drowned out.
The mood began to change when former board president Steven Harris sat down and began to explain the process for getting on the agenda. He told them that they should contact their board member who would get them put on the agenda if enough people wanted to discuss the same subject. The current policy prohibits discussion of a subject not on the agenda.
Harris said they all could disagree on their viewpoint but could agree to talk civilly and follow procedure.
Things settled even more when Harris said his sister died of COVID-19 and he had to wear a mask to see her. He said burying his sister was the hardest thing he had ever done. “Your children mean as much to me as my sister did,” Harris said.
Supt. Dr. Grant Eloi said even though he hated masks, he was not an expert and followed guidance from the La. Dept. of Health ‘They gave us that guidance and I listen to them. My job is to protect the children. When they tell me what’s best, I don’t feel qualified enough to go against that office.”
Since the meeting was adjourned, no one speaking gave their name but Harris let everyone would have their say.
In response to Eloi, one said that he was not every parent. “Parents should be able to say ‘I am scared’ and I will keep my kids at home.”
Another questioned why students were required to wear masks while athletes did not. She said they could go to Wal-Mart and birthday parties without masks. Others said they could understand the masking policy if masks were required everywhere.
One said children have wonderful immune systems and she believed more and more parents would stand up against wearing masks. Another said it was just about following rules, not health threats. Several were critical of recommendations from the La. Dept. of Health. “I feel like no one is listening.”

This article published in the Jan. 20, 2022, print edition

Board member Dorothy McGaskey said every board member was concerned about the students and she, too, lost a family member to COVID. She said certain businesses chose to disallow masks as a financial concern. She believes the students have gotten used to wearing masks.
Metoyer told the group several schools around the state were closing because of COVID. As an example, he cited Lincoln Parish schools will close for a week as are schools in Avoyelles Parish. Eloi said between 18-20 parishes are experiencing closures.
Eloi pointed to statistics to support the school board’s mask policy. Only 1.9 percent of the student population in the parish has tested positive and there is only a 5 percent quarantine rate. He said he believed those rates would be higher without the mask policy. Implementing the masks after the holidays was a precaution.
Eloi said if it were put on the agenda and the board voted to change the policy, he would be all for it. He said his greatest fear was that a child would die on his watch. ‘It keeps me up at night,” he said.
He reiterated that they needed to go through the process and that the next board meeting would be the second week in February.
One parent, who is also a school bus driver, said it was a fight, every single day, to get the students to wear masks and that buses were overloaded with three students to a seat. “When does the power come back to you to give us as choice?” she asked.
Eloi said another of his goals was to keep students in school and not change to virtual school. Last year, there were 1,200 virtual students, many of whom lost a year of instruction. “They struggled immensely.” Eloi said if he had to choose between the annoyance of a mask and virtual school, he would choose the masks.
Eloi said his email was available on the NPSB site and he was available if anyone wanted to talk. A list of board members and their emails is also on the website.
The next committee meeting will be Tuesday, Feb. 1 and he next regular meeting will be Feb. 3. Both are at 5 p.m. at the school board office on Royal Street.