Proposals to alleviate crowding at Lafayette High School got a chilly reception Tuesday from dozens of current and former students, faculty and parents who spoke out against relocating the school’s health, performing arts or gifted academies.
The full Lafayette Parish School Board discussed the proposals Tuesday night at a joint meeting of its facilities and finance committees. More than 100 people packed the board room, with about a quarter of them speaking in favor of redistricting the school zone instead of relocating the popular programs to Comeaux High School.
Lafayette High’s student population has turned it into the largest high school in the state with a 2015-16 enrollment of 2,468 students. Meanwhile, Comeaux is poised to lose about 900 of its about 1,800 students when the new Southside High School opens in Youngsville for the 2017-18 school year.
The board has considered a variety of proposals. These include moving either Lafayette High’s health careers academy or its performing arts academy to Comeaux High; creating parallel health, arts and gifted programs at both Lafayette High and Comeaux High; or redrawing the Lafayette High district to move about 900 students to Comeaux.
Proposals to place a cap on the academies’ enrollment numbers received no support, from those who spoke at the meeting or from board members, and neither did a proposal to make Lafayette High a magnet school.
Those opposed to making any changes to Lafayette High’s programming described a student culture that thrived because of the multiple disciplines offered at the school, which created a diverse and synergistic population that led to its status as the only “A” school in the parish.
Melinda Mangham, a retired Lafayette High gifted teacher who taught at the school when the program started three decades ago, said the academies create an active and challenging learning environment across all disciplines and for all students.
“The multi-potentiality of the students in the gifted program are addressed, as well as for other students throughout the school,” Mangham said.
Bart Thibodeaux, the school system’s director of special education, said separating the programs should be only a last-resort consideration.
“What currently exists at Lafayette High is best practices,” Thibodeaux said.
Other speakers agreed with Thibodeaux, saying the school system should look at what’s happening at Lafayette High and take those practices to other schools that need a boost.
Speakers were opposed to splitting the gifted program between the two high schools and also raised questions about the cost of moving either program to Comeaux High.
Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, the programs would gradually transfer over the next few years, with duplicate services being offered at both schools during the switch.
And although Comeaux High will have 31 extra classrooms once students transfer to the new high school in Youngsville, the school does not have the auditorium that Lafayette High performing arts students use or facilities in which to educate the health students, raising additional concerns about the costs of accommodating for additional academies.
No figures were presented on how much the transitional period would cost.
Several board members raised concerns about moving the programs to Comeaux High when other schools in the parish are under capacity.
Northside High School has a capacity of 1,300 students, yet about 675 students are enrolled. Board member Tehmi Chassion, District 4, and board Vice President Dawn Morris, District 7, both spoke in support of moving academies to the school.
Morris suggested moving the entire gifted program there.
“Culture is important, but that is part of group dynamics. And every time a ninth-grade class comes into a school, the dynamic changes,” Morris said.
“They will survive. They will thrive. And people will adjust to it,” Morris said.
A petition to keep the gifted program at Lafayette High by Tuesday afternoon had about 550 supporters. A petition to keep the arts academy at Lafayette High had about 1,000 supporters, and one to keep the health academy there had about 460.
A proposal to rezone the Lafayette High district, removing about 900 students from the southernmost neighborhoods of the district and placing them at Comeaux High, received support from audience speakers.
The rezoning would eliminate neighborhoods traditionally zoned for Lafayette High.
Molly Goforth, who teaches stringed instruments at Lafayette High, said the compromise would allow the school to continue operating at its academic levels and allow the board to focus on building up programs at other schools.
“It leaves in place a successful system,” she said.
The board is not currently set to take any action on the proposals.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.