Disciplinary school near Baker to close, part of changes for local alternative schools

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The East Baton Rouge Parish school system is reworking its alternative schools yet again, with plans to close a middle school, sending sixth- and seventh-graders to an elementary campus while eighth-graders would go to a high school facility.

All of these alternative schools are named EBR Readiness, followed by the type of school and location. Those locations are typically long-closed elementary school campuses.

The high school adding eighth-graders is EBR Readiness High at Brookstown. That was the scene of a March 8 schoolwide fight that involved close to 200 parents and students, led to 10 arrests and sent a Baton Rouge police officer to the hospital with a broken hip.

Soon after that fight, the parish school system opened a second EBR Readiness high school site at the former Rosenwald elementary school at 2611 Dayton St. That second high school site, which served as many as 60 students late last year who had been expelled from their home school, was meant to separate students with pre-existing conflicts.

The March 8 fight was due in part to conflicts among students from the same school who had been in a fight there.

“If you got into a group fight, all of you went to the same site,” said Chief of Schools Arcelius Brickhouse. “Doesn’t make much sense.”

Brickhouse spoke about the latest changes in alternative education at Thursday’s School Board meeting. The board plans to consider the matter again when it holds its July 20 meeting.

Repeatedly over the past decade, the school system has tinkered with its alternative schools. These range from schools like EBR Readiness where students are assigned after being suspended or expelled from their home school to schools like Northdale Academy, a school for students struggling academically in a traditional setting who choose that school as an alternative.

EBR Readiness Middle, the school set to close, is located at 2555 Desoto Drive near Baker. Like all disciplinary schools, its population grows over the years as students are put out of their home schools. So on Oct. 1, 2022, the middle school had 79 students, but by May 22, the last day of school, its enrollment had nearly tripled to 243 students.

Sixth- and seventh-graders are to be sent to EBR Readiness Elementary at Greenville, 1645 N. Foster Drive. On May 22, that added up to 120 students.

The bulk of the suspended and expelled eighth-graders, 123 on May 22, are to be sent to the high schools at Brookstown, 4375 E. Brookstown Drive, though some will be diverted to the Rosenwald facility.

At Thursday’s presentation, board members had various concerns, but also praise for the school system’s plans to improve alternative education in Baton Rouge. None indicated they would vote against the idea.

The vote, however, comes after the school closure is already far along. The principal and staff of the Beechwood campus have already been transferred to other jobs and the school officials are looking to install fences around the newly empty campus.

The first evidence the school was being closed was in the district budget released May 18, which indicated the Beechwood campus was set to receive no staff for the 2023-24 school year. That prompted calls demanding an explanation for what was happening as well as a formal board vote, which is required when schools are closed.

Board watcher James Finney on Thursday castigated Superintendent Sito Narcisse for “doing things backwards.”

“The school is already closed, the people are already transferred and now he wants you to bless it with permission after the fact?” Finney asked. “That is unacceptable.”

Chief of Schools Brickhouse on Thursday justified the closure of the Beechwood campus because it will result in shorter bus rides, lessen the need for staff and lead to fewer vacancies.

Many of the children attending that school live in the southern end of the parish, far away from Beechwood.

“Because of the long ride, sometimes our scholars were not always on their best behavior,” Brickhouse said.

And having one fewer school will mean fewer staff needed. Brickhouse said the district already struggles to fill vacancies at alternative schools in all subjects, particularly electives, and the ones that are filled often are filled by long-term substitutes.

The district’s plans to end a $500,000 remote learning contract with Proximity Learning, a company based in Austin, Texas, would likely make it more difficult to offer all the courses it would like to at the alternative schools.

Board President Dadrius Lanus said he supports the changes, but is “not thrilled with the buildings we are putting those students in.”

“If we are setting up our students for success, they have to see that every day,” he said.

Randy Morales, chief of physical plant, sketched out close to $250,000 worth of improvements being done now at the Greenville campus, including repainting, flooring and building a wall separating the younger kids already there from the new middle schoolers set to arrive in August.

Board member Carly Powell expressed concern that the Beechwood campus, like the nearby Banks Elementary campus, which was vacated two years ago, could become an eyesore and a target for vandals.

Morales said other than fences and perhaps increased police patrols, there’s little else his office can do.

“Banks has fences up,” he acknowledged, “but (outsiders) are still able to get in and break windows and intrude and open doors and things like that, and (they) have taken some items out of the school.”

Board member Cliff Lewis had other concerns.

“You’re not going to solve the crisis in alternative education with brick and mortar,” Lewis said. “I’m more concerned with what is happening once they get inside. We need social workers. We need so many other things going on with our alternative education.”

Brickhouse said changes are in the works, including contracts with outside service groups offering “wraparound services” that the board will soon vote on.

“This coming year, we want to make it comprehensive,” Brickhouse said.

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About Mary Weyand 11096 Articles
Mary founded Scoop Tour with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research. With ample knowledge about the Automobile industry, she also contributes her knowledge for the Automobile section of the website.

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