This year shaped up to be a busy one for Rapides Parish schools. Here’s a look back at the top education stories that caught your attention in 2016. (Click on the highlighted text to read the original story.)
Before Rapides Parish voters approved an 8.5 percent raise paid for by a half-cent sales in April, a Town Talk report at the beginning of the year revealed local teachers are among the lowest-paid in the state. The most recent data available from the Louisiana Department of Education put Rapides Parish teacher pay at 55th out of 69 school districts in the state.
In May, the Obama administration and U.S. Department of Education ordered schools to let transgender students use bathrooms “consistent with their gender identity.” A Rapides Parish School District policy statement soon followed saying “until this situation is resolved by final and binding laws or court rulings,” students here are to continue using bathrooms and locker rooms based on their “biological sex.”
Special ed prom
A heartwarming gesture by Rapides special education teachers who organized a prom for their students touched the community. Nearly 100 students enrolled in special education classes at Rapides Parish high schools attended their first prom at Bolton High in Alexandria. Teachers organized, raised money and decorated the venue for the event and found support from local businesses, which donated everything from tuxes to limousines.
Recess in Rapides
The Town Talk’s look at recess in Rapides schools at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year created waves as parents learned that their children may have little to no outdoor playtime during the school day. Local school administrators admitted that instructional time requirements from the state influence their decisions to completely cut or shorten students’ recess time.
No one is likely to have forgotten just yet that time law enforcement took precautionary measures and locked down Rapides schools while investigating a social media post related to clown sightings in other states. The lockdown was lifted in about an hour, but what turned out to be a false alarm put parents on high alert.
An educator who sued the Rapides Parish School District after she was fired in 2001 was awarded more than $1 million in September by a 9th Judicial District Court judge. Former Tioga High School teacher Patricia Powell claimed she was fired because of comments she made to The Town Talk about former Superintendent Betty Cox. She said the district took revenge by harassing and eventually firing her, among other things.
School performance scores
The Louisiana Department of Education released 2015-16 scores reflective of student performance in November, and the report was overall positive for Rapides. More schools earned A and B letter grades from the state, helping move up the district’s overall performance score from an 86.7 B to a 92 B. Despite the 17 schools that saw a slight to several point decrease in their score, the district ranked among the top six in the state for growth due to progress at 29 schools.