Students caught between parishes

The St. John School System transports these students, who live in St. John, to schools in St. James Parish. St. John schools Superintendent Michael Coburn said an unwritten agreement between the two school systems has allowed students who live in Pleasure Bend to attend schools in Vacherie for 35 years.

“I don’t see how I can legally allow this to continue,” Coburn said.

The issue is one of geography. Pleasure Bend is in St. John, but it is much closer to schools in St. James. Travel time from Pleasure Bend to West St. John Elementary and West St. John High School is about 45 minutes. Schools in Vacherie are less than five minutes away.

“I sympathize with these parents because Vacherie Elementary and St. James High School are just a few minutes away,” said Coburn. “However, they live in St. John Parish and by law, I cannot continue to permit them to go to school out of parish,” Coburn said.

In early June, families in Pleasure Bend received a letter from the St. John School Board saying St. John would no longer transport their children to St. James schools. Soon after, the families received a letter from the St. James School Board saying the children could still attend school in St. James, but that that parish could not provide transportation, either.

The Pleasure Bend parents asked school officials from both parishes to attend a community forum on student travel. At that meeting, Coburn agreed to continue busing the students, but he cautioned parents that it was only a temporary reprieve.

Coburn and other officials from St. John are scheduled to meet with Justice Department officials in Washington D.C. on Sept. 11.

“We are asking the U.S. Justice Department for unitary status, which would clear us from the desegregation order we have been under for the last 10 years. One thing that I am sure that the Justice Department won’t like is that we are sending students out of parish,” said Coburn.

Coburn said the Pleasure Bend students also present a financial issue. He said the St. John school system spends $45,000 annually to provide a school bus and bus driver for the Pleasure Bend students. He said the state funding for those students all goes to St. James Parish, where the students attend school.

“We need those students to attend schools here in St. John Parish,” Coburn said.

Sarah Clausen, a resident of Pleasure Bend, said the only issue should be quality of education. Joseph Clausen, 11, attends Vacherie Elementary and Jacob Clausen, 14, attends St. James High School. Clausen is adamant about wanting her sons to continue attending St. James schools.

 

“I’m not in a position to pay for private school, but I will home school them before I will send them to school in St. John,” said Clausen. “My boys already face big challenges because they are both dyslexic, and I don’t think they should have to deal with additional challenges just to help meet someone’s numbers.”

St. James Superintendent Ed Cancienne said the decision is entirely up to St. John and that he would comply with whatever decision is made.

“It’s not our decision. We’re just trying to accommodate these students’ educational needs because of their proximity to our schools.”

Cancienne said state education funding provides $2,507 per student annually, but St. James Parish spends $7,029 per student annually. Cancienne said the taxpayers in St. James Parish have been paying about $140,000 annually to educate the students from St. John Parish.