More than 100 educators, parents and well wishers on Wednesday afternoon gathered along South Foster Drive in Baton Rouge, waving signs to passersby, protesting a quick return to in-person schooling amid a resurgence of cases of the novel coronavirus.

Storm Matthews, a teacher at Sherwood Middle School in Baton Rouge, was the only speaker at this otherwise silent protest. With her head sticking out of the sunroof of a minivan, Matthews addressed the crowd.

“We are not disposable!” shouted Matthews.

The protest was organized by the local chapters of the Association of Educators and the Federation of Teachers and held in front of the offices of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. It went on, even though hours earlier incoming Superintendent Leslie Brown agreed to delay the start of in-person instruction until after Labor Day, rather than starting Aug. 6, according to a plan released last week.

While they applauded Brown’s move, they said it’s not enough.

“We want to be assured that students and educators can return to the classroom safely,” said Anita Augustus, president of the parish Association of Educators.

Angela Reams-Brown, president of the parish Federation of Teachers, said Brown’s message was encouraging, but she’d like to see the school system take advantage of August to make schools truly safe.

“We want to teach,” Reams-Brown said. “We love our kids, but we also want to be safe."

Both organizations say that they want to see coronavirus cases decline for at least 14 consecutive days before reopening, a key plank in school reopening guidelines issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Jasmine Pogue, a parent, echoed that point of view. She came to Wednesday’s protest with her daughter, Kennedy Mayorol, who is just about to start first grade but will stay at home until she feels it’s safe to return. She said she wants more specifics.

“They need to outlay what will be the trigger for opening the schools back up,” she said. “If our cases are still going up and we’re still in Phase 2 are you going to open the schools?”

Some teachers say a decline in cases may not be enough.

Peter Russo, a high school teacher in Baton Rouge who participated in the protest, said he’s worried about reopening schools until there’s better national leadership, including a new president, saying the current leaders have “abdicated” their responsibility.

“We’re not ready,” Russo said. “Our country’s not ready. Until we’ve got good leadership in place, I don’t think any of us are going to be comfortable teaching face-to-face.”

Stephanie Washington, a middle school teacher in Baton Rouge, pointed to recent research suggesting that even young children can pass along the virus to others. She doubted that schools could safely reopen in the next couple of months.”

“Is it worth it?” Washington said. “What parent wants to be the one to bury their child."


Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com.