Livingston Parish Public Schools address proposed teacher strike during press conference

Livingston Parish Superintendent confident classes will go on as usual Wednesday despite threat of 'sick out' from teachers

LIVINGSTON PARISH, La. (WAFB) - Teachers in Livingston Parish are planning a “sick out” in protest of the school district’s coronavirus opening procedures, according to the Livingston Federation of Teachers and School Employees.

Teachers say they have raised their concerns with the school board, but since the district has not taken action, teachers are planning to not report to school Wednesday, Sept. 23.

“Making the decision to leave my students, even for just one day, is an incredibly difficult choice,” said Tamara Cupit, Livingston Federation of Teachers president. “But ultimately, this is something we need to do for them not only this year, but for years to come to protect their health and safety, and ensure that each of our students get a top-quality education, whether they’re learning in person or on a computer.”

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“We’ve been trying to tell the school board for weeks that this system isn’t working, but our concerns have fallen on deaf ears. We felt like there was no other option, but to take a day to protest the board’s inaction,” said Jessica Colbenson, Livingston Federation of Teachers Executive board member.

Teachers in the parish are calling for the formation of a Superintendent’s Advisory Council made up of one teacher from each school elected by the teachers at that school. The council would then meet with the superintendent and the school board at least once per month to address issues related to schools reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teachers say virtual learning has placed a “heavy burden” on them, students, and parents.

FULL: Livingston officials hold press conference about planned teacher 'sick out'

During a news conference about the proposed “sick out” held Tuesday, Sept. 22 Livingston Parish Schools Superintendent Joe Murphy said the school district planned on having school as usual Wednesday.

Murphy acknowledged that virtual learning and the COVID-19 pandemic have been challenging for the school district’s teachers. The superintendent said now that the school district is in Phase 3 the number of students learning virtually has decreased to about 7% of the district’s student population. Even though LPSS is working to have as much face-to-face learning as possible in Phase 3, he called virtual learning a “reality” of education that “will never go away.”

Murphy said LPSS’s Strong Start Committee, which was established over the summer to address challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, has been expanded to 26 people and includes teachers, principals, office staff, parents, and students. He says he did not make any the appointments to the committee and that the appointments were made by an individual teacher and principal organizations and the school board.

The superintendent said teachers who were planning to “sick out” Wednesday also wanted pay raises and were upset with the cost of health insurance. Murphy said he and the school board supported pay raises for teachers, but unless they were provided by the State of Louisiana the school district would have to propose a tax to parish residents to fund the pay raises. He said he did not think it was an appropriate time to ask parish residents to pay higher taxes.

Murphy said the increase in health insurance was from a 5% increase in the state’s insurance program. He said health insurance is the second-highest yearly cost to LPSS.

Murphy also claimed the Livingston Federation of Teachers and School Employees did not contact him or the school board prior to the announcement of the sick out. However, he did say he and the school board were willing to speak with a representative of the federation.

When asked if the school system was prepared to continue to hold classes Wednesday if 40%-50% of its teachers did not show up, Murphy said the numbers were “exaggerated” and that the school district had enough “people” to continue class as usual if half of the school system’s teachers did not show up for work.

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