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French immersion school in Pointe-aux-Chenes to open in 2023 after unanimous bill approval

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Kezia Setyawan
/
WWNO
Pointe-aux-Chenes Elementary School in Terrebonne Parish in 2021.

École Pointe-au-Chien, a public French immersion school, has now been approved to open after a unanimous vote in the state Senate and House at the end of May.

The school is set to begin serving students from Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes next year in August for children pre-K through fourth grade.

This has been part of an ongoing struggle led by the Pointe-au-Chien Indian tribe and other community members since April 2021, when the Terrebonne Parish School Board voted 6-3 to close Pointe-aux-Chenes Elementary School last June, citing dwindling enrollment. Students, who are predominantly Native American and of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe, were relocated about five miles away to Montegut Elementary School.

Stakeholders are envisioning that École Pointe-au-Chien will open in the previously closed elementary school, though that hasn’t been announced yet. The legislature has allocated $3 million for the school through the state budget bill and supplemental appropriations.

35 Senators voted to approve HB 261 with no opposition, following the House’s 97-0 approval of the bill back in April.

Proponents, including Pointe-au-Chien Tribal member Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, have previously pointed out the importance of the French immersion school as their way to maintain their cultural heritage.

“The French language, both Indian French and Cajun French, are threatened languages,” Ferguson-Bohnee said. “In our community, people continue to speak French. It's very important to our survival as a community and the future of our tribe.”

The Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe and parents in the community have also been petitioning for a French immersion program in their community for years since the first formal petition came back in 2018.

Will McGrew, CEO of Télé-Louisiane and vice president of the École Pointe-au-Chien non-profit organization established to support the state school, said he was thankful for State Rep. Tanner Magee (R-Houma), who initially introduced the bill, and other supporters in the Legislature.

“The unanimous vote by the State Legislature to open École Pointe-au-Chien will help ensure the survival of this unique Indian French and Cajun community. We are grateful to everyone who helped make this dream a reality,” McGrew said.

The bill was amended to appoint 13 members, an increase of six members per the bill’s original language, to the school’s board of directors.

The members are as follows:

  • Three members appointed by the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe
  • One member appointed by the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians of Louisiana
  • One member appointed by the governor
  • One member appointed by the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana who is an employee of the council
  • One member appointed by the Consul General of France in Louisiana
  • One member appointed by the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw
  • One member appointed by the Bayou Lafourche Band of Biloxi Chitimacha Confederation of Muskogees
  • One member appointed by the United Houma Nation
  • The state superintendent of education or a designee who is an employee of the state Department of Education
  • The member of the Louisiana Senate whose district encompasses the location of the school or a designee who is a resident of Pointe-aux-Chenes
  • The member of the Louisiana House of Representatives whose district encompasses the location of the school or a designee who is a resident of Pointe-aux-Chenes

Board members will serve four-year terms.

The school's Board of Directors will be in charge of the $3 million budget allocated by the legislature to rebuild from Hurricane Ida and prepare for the opening scheduled for the school in 2023.

The governor is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming weeks, Magee said.

Kezia Setyawan is a coastal reporter for WWNO and WRKF and is based out of Houma.

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