Vidrine, city school leaders sweeping virus cases under the rug

Unlike many private schools, and most parish schools, the Monroe City School District is depending on the “honor system” to fight the Coronavirus Pandemic; that’s not a great idea.

Our community is extremely concerned about the lackadaisical approach the board has adopted concerning the Coronavirus, blindly following the lead of Superintendent Brent Vidrine who refuses to provide tests for teachers or to supplement sick leave for teachers who test positive.

It’s a sensitive subject for our community because unlike Ouachita Parish Schools or the area’s private schools, the city schools have an overwhelmingly African-American population.

The Center for Disease Control has indicated that Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be infected by the virus because very few families are free of underlying conditions.

In the Monroe City School District, since school has resumed, there has not been a single agenda item dedicated to the Pandemic, school safety steps, and updates about infections if any.

In its last meeting, even though there were confirmed reports of positive COVID 19 tests among Central Office staffers, at least two school principals, some athletes, several teachers, a coach, and students at several schools, there was no report to the board from the superintendent.

Neither was there an agenda item to discuss the matter. If the item is not on the board’s agenda parents can’t comment on the subject at meetings.

The only discussion of virus safety issues is usually initiated by board member B.J. Johnson, who asks for reports about the effectiveness of the district’s safety measures, but is generally ignored by other board members who seem to follow Vidrine’s unofficial “Don’t tell, even if asked” policy.

In its last board meeting, Johnson asks whether parents are informed if a student or teacher at a school tests positive. The superintendent’s only response is that the district follows the CDC Guidelines for social distancing in accordance with the Governor’s proclamation.

No other board member questioned complaints that many city classrooms do not follow social distancing rules that require six feet of social distancing in all directions per classroom. For an average city classroom, that means about nine students in a classroom, including teachers and aides. Some city school classrooms have more than 20 students.

Johnson requested that a practice being used by Roy Shelling Elementary should be universal. Shelling elementary sends letters to parents if a student or teacher has tested positive, indicating what safety procedures the school is taking for those who may have come in contact with the infected student or teacher. (The infected person is not named). When Johnson asked that a similar practice become district-wide, no other board member supported his request.

The district does not seem to understand that one student who tests positive at a school may have infected dozens of other students prior to learning test results. A teacher or coach who has tested positive may have inadvertently infected others.

The district is not tracing the contacts and isolating everyone contacted by an infected teacher or staff member.

We expect board members to be concerned about the safety of both the district’s students and faculty.

If the district requires staff and students to report to unsafe conditions, at the very least, the board should absorb the cost of the decision.

The life of students and staff should at least be worthy of an agenda item that calls for a full report, school by school, as to what is being done to comply with CDC guidelines and to keep our children safe.

Dr. Vidrine works for the school board and should follow its directives, not the other way around.

At present, every student, teacher, or staff member that is injured because of the board’s laid back attitude should ignore the state’s tissue-paper shield law that protects boards from suits, and “lawyer up” anyway.

The shield won’t be worth the paper it’s written on, especially when it’s obvious that districts like the Monroe City Schools are grossly negligent.