OPSB Vice President Greg Manley.jpg

The Ouachita Parish School Board accepted a Farmerville contractor’s bid of some $30.9 million earlier this week to build the new Sterlington Middle School on Keystone Road.

Don M. Barron Contractor Inc., a Farmerville construction company, submitted one of two bids to the School Board to build the new school. The School Board considered bids during its regular meeting on Tuesday.

Sterlington Middle School’s burgeoning student population is exceeding the capacity of its current facility. The new facility could hold some 600 students on 40 acres.

Kenneth Slusher, the school system’s project coordinator, and project architect Rice Gregory estimated construction could begin by March and take about 18 months.

“We’ll keep our fingers crossed that we could be in the school of fall of 2023,” said School Board Vice President Greg Manley.

On another front, the School Board rescinded its COVID-19 Public Health Emergency policy (“EBBI”) after a local parents’ activist group lobbied the board to reject the expired policy. The policy was dated August 2020 and included a number of the social distancing restrictions common to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tiffany Hatten, with Parent’s Choice LA, spoke to the School Board on Tuesday, asking them to remove the policy since it had expired.

School Board member Scotty Waggoner said he did not see any reason to keep the policy on the books.

“It’s expired,” Waggoner said. “I make a motion to dismiss.”

School Board member Shere May said she also reviewed the expired policy and seconded Waggoner’s motion.

The vote was unanimous.

Superintendent Don Coker asked the school system’s policy coordinator to review the School Board’s other policies to determine whether any others also have expired.

Meanwhile, Parent’s Choice LA recently sent the School Board a letter asking that extracurricular activities, including sporting events, prom, and graduation, not be suspended.

“I write to you concerning masking, testing and extracurricular activities,” stated the Parent’s Choice LA letter. “The parents are respectfully making a demand upon the Ouachita Parish School Board to permanently cease and desist with the mask mandate for school buses, the discriminatory quarantine policy and from implementing any future mandatory masking and COVID testing policies.”

On Tuesday, Coker addressed a number of locals who expressed similar concerns.

There were more than 3,000 students out sick on Tuesday, according to Coker. (There are some 18,000 students in the parish school system.)

“I feel like we need to do everything we can to keep our schools open,” Coker said. “If we have to close a school or two, maybe we have to do it. But to close an entire district, to have 15,000 students at home, trying to get that virtual instruction is not real conducive to what our schools need.”

According to Coker, other school systems closed for two days last week.

“That’s their decision,” Coker said. “We are so fortunate we called on coaches who are certified bus drivers to fill in.”

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