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Coastal Desk

Terrebonne Parish School Board Votes To Close Pointe-Aux-Chenes Elementary

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Tegan Wendland
/
WWNO
Jackson Dardar (left) says physical education is his favorite class at Pointe-Aux-Chenes Elementary, and his sister Presley says she loves her school.

Terrebonne Parish School Board members voted Tuesday night to close Pointe-Aux-Chenes Elementary School.

If the decision stands, the school will serve its 88 students through the end of the year and then merge with Montegut Elementary School. The school is 4 miles away and currently serves 143 students.

It might not seem like a big deal to combine two tiny schools down the bayou, but for the people of Pointe-Aux-Chenes, the elementary school is special.

Impassioned speakers argued that the closure would disproportionately impact the Native American community since most of the students who attend are members of two local tribes, the Isle de Jean Charles Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw and Pointe-au-Chien.

After hours of emotional testimony, when the school board voted 6 to 3 to shut the school down, parents scolded them and stormed out of the meeting.

The Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribal Council opposes the consolidation and they’re not alone.

Over the weekend, The Houma Courier published an op-ed that argues closing the school would violate the United Nations’ declaration of human rights.

Thirty-two education scholars, many of whom have worked with tribes in Terrebonne Parish, signed on as co-authors of the column.

Louisiana’s House of Representatives also took a strong stand on the issue in the hours leading up to the vote when they passed a unanimous resolution urging the school board not to close Pointe-Aux-Chien Elementary.

The resolution says the House of Representatives will “consider withholding COVID-19 relief funding from the school board if it continues to close schools unnecessarily.”

Opponents said they plan to fight Tuesday’s decision with lawsuits, but Terrebonne Parish School District Superintendent Philip Martin said he doesn’t think their challenges will have legal standing.

Martin said students will still be offered a quality education since both elementary schools are ranked B schools by the Louisiana Department of Education.

Martin told New Orleans Public Radio that the decision to close the school was difficult but necessary since the school’s enrollment is dropping fast.

Twenty-five students have left over the last five years.

People have been driven from the area by the threat of storms and sea-level rise. At this point, the tiny town doesn’t have much left.

Locals said in addition to the elementary school, there’s the fire department, a few churches, a grocery store and a restaurant. Many are still mourning the loss of the town’s public library several years ago.

Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and local listeners.

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