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School board declares public emergency

Meals, testing, teacher pay addressed
Caleb Daniel
Tuesday, March 17, 2020
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The Lincoln Parish School Board has declared a public emergency related to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

A resolution passed at a special called meeting of the board Tuesday morning granted Superintendent of Schools Mike Milstead a list of 10 temporary, emergency powers related to leading the board’s response to the outbreak and the mandatory school closures associated with it.

“It addresses some issues that for us are still unknowns, because this whole process is unknown,” Milstead said. “We’re in uncharted waters here.”

The state of emergency also puts the school district in line to apply for FEMA reimbursement for a portion of money spent to mitigate the effects of school closures on parish students and personnel.

The declaration comes a day after Lincoln Parish Police Jury President Joe Henderson declared a similar state of emergency for the parish. While the two proclamations are unconnected, Milstead said they were made to accomplish the same primary goals.

By proclamation of Gov. John Bel Edwards last week, all public schools will not conduct class until April 13. Below are some of the most important topics affected by the school board’s declaration and recent announcements made statewide.


One of Milstead’s emergency powers is the authority to apply to state and federal education agencies “for waivers of regulations or requirements, the compliance of which is impacted by COVID-19.”

For now, that mainly involves the waiver of the state’s School Performance Scores and District Performance Scores for the 2019-20 school year, which the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Department of Education announced Monday.

Those scores are derived largely from students’ results on the spring LEAP 2025 standardized assessments. The tests themselves have not yet been cancelled, but BESE and LDOE have petitioned the federal government to allow further “statutory relief” in that area, signifying that LEAP cancellations could be coming soon.

“That’s one thing that’s been taken off the table that takes the pressure off,” Milstead said. “When you’re off school for four weeks, teachers were kind of in a panic about (the scores), frankly. They have not yet waived standardized testing, but I think that’s coming as well.”

End-of-course exam requirements for graduating seniors have also been waived, clearing the way for seniors to graduate on time. Whether formal graduation ceremonies will be possible by springtime or not remains to be seen.


The emergency powers also include the authority to supply and arrange the distribution of meals to all parish children 18 and under during the downtime, a task the district had already begun Monday.

For the first day, sack breakfasts and lunches were limited to those children who were actually present in the vehicle at the various school pickup locations across the parish. Turnout was fairly low, so with the help of Ruston Housing Authority volunteers, school staff passed out all the leftover meals door-to-door in nearby communities.

“Our concern was, when someone drives up with no children in the vehicle and says, ‘I need five,’ how quickly are we going to run out of food?” Milstead told board members.

But after Tuesday’s low turnout, some complaints from residents, and liability concerns, access has now been widened. Children no longer need to be present in the vehicle, and drivers will receive as many meals as they ask for.

“If we run out of 1,100 meals today, we’ll increase it to 1,500 tomorrow,” Milstead said.

The school district is asking that residents be responsible in picking up these meals and ask for only one breakfast and one lunch per child to whom they’re delivering.

In addition to the eight pickup sites listed in Tuesday’s Ruston Leader and on the school board’s Facebook page, Lincoln Preparatory School in Grambling is also serving meals each weekday from 10 a.m. to noon through its spring break, which begins April 6.

“All Lincoln Prep students, siblings of students, or any other Lincoln Parish student is welcome,” Lincoln Prep Executive Director Gordan Ford said Tuesday.

Employee pay

Milstead now also has the authority to continue to pay all school employees their regular compensation while schools are closed, something he said is a must.

“We’re still going to pay them because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “They didn’t ask for this.”

The resolution also grants Milstead the power to waive employee leave that had been previously approved during what is now mandatory downtime, excluding sick leave used for workers compensation.

“Something as simple as, if a teacher is on leave already, do these days count against her?” Milstead said. “Our inclination is no.”

School food service personnel who are serving meals daily will receive extra compensation for that time on top of their regular pay.

Milstead will be required to make regular reports to the board on the actions he takes and expenditures he approves with the power of this state of emergency, the resolution says.

“This whole thing is a work in progress,” he said. “Every day is different.”

The board unanimously approved the emergency declaration. Board members Susan Wiley, Lisa Best and Debbie Abrahm were absent.