Schools welcome students back for start of new year _lowres

Advocate staff photo by CHRISTINE MORGAN ARCENEAUX - Brock Jackson, 12, carries his school supplies off the bus after arriving Thursday at Ponchatoula Middle School for the first day of school in Tangipahoa Parish.

A petition to delay the start date for Tangipahoa Parish schools due to excessive heat has drawn thousands of supporters — and similar requests are being made across the state — but it won’t change the parish’s school calendar just yet.

The online petition, which seeks to move the parish’s first day of school from Aug. 6 to after Labor Day, had gathered more than 5,000 signatures before the Tangipahoa Parish School Board started its meeting Tuesday night.

Organizer Carli Adams, a substitute teacher and mother of three, said she is overwhelmed by the support. “Never in a million years thought it would blow up like that,” she said after the board meeting.

Adams’ petition, posted Sunday to change.org, says most of the district’s school buses lack air conditioning, and those carrying younger students typically keep their windows closed due to safety concerns.

“Our children are having to ride home on these buses during the peak hours of heat,” Adams states in her petition. “Many children have issues that cause them to be sensitive to heat and this could potentially cause health issues.”

August days are “entirely too hot for kids to be participating in PE, sports or any other outdoor activities at school,” she said.

Changing the schools’ start date could help prevent heat-related illnesses, avoid the peak of hurricane season, as well as save the district money by decreasing energy bills, Adams said.

Hammond parent Amy Brumfield, who spoke to the School Board on behalf of the petition effort Tuesday, said with temperatures in the upper 90s and the heat index hovering above 100, students could have difficulty cooling off and may suffer from dehydration. Brumfield read comments from several petition supporters, urging the School Board to reconsider its school calendar.

Board President Brett Duncan thanked the parents for their input and said the board’s Instructional Accountability and Support Committee will hold further discussions on the issue before the district sets future school calendars.

“We’ll make sure all have an opportunity to participate and hopefully will be able to make some improvements out of that,” Duncan said.

Adams said after the meeting she had hoped the petition would convince administrators to change the schools’ start date this year, but she’s glad the board at least agreed to consider their input in the future.

Jennifer Slocum, mother of six Tangipahoa students, said parent organizations in other parishes also are pushing for change in their school calendars.

Adams’ petition received support from parents and school employees from several parishes across the state, including Livingston, Ascension, St. Tammany, Lafayette, Jefferson and St. Bernard.

Numerous school bus drivers joined the effort, including Jennifer Simmons, of Independence, who said she sometimes supplies bottled water and Popsicles to the children on her bus, out of her own pocket, “so the children won’t have it too bad.”

Faye Borne, a bus driver from Ponchatoula, said she knew of a child who had a heat stroke on a school bus due to the August heat. “Surely if it happened to one, it’s happened to more,” she said.

Megan Ard, of Loranger, said her two daughters are typically drenched with sweat by the time their bus ride ends each day. She said the schools’ start date “needs to be changed to keep all children in good health.”

Other supporters expressed concerns about student athletes and children with heat sensitivity, asthma and other health issues.

Mary Gray, of Loranger, said male students have it particularly rough: “It’s too hot to be wearing pants during this time, especially for guys because they don’t have the advantage of wearing skirts.”

Many petition signers said the school years are getting too long and the summers too short, particularly for students feeling anxious about homework loads and standardized testing.

“Every year the schools keep making the first day of school’s date early!” Sophie Romano, of Ponchatoula, wrote. “This year it was supposed to be Friday! I want this to STOP!”

Others said they would be willing to accept a later end-date — say, in June — so their children could begin school after the weather cools in September.

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.