Watson defends Memorial Day classes in Livingston Parish

Some Livingston Parish veterans say the parish school system’s decision to hold class on Monday — Memorial Day — is a disgrace to veterans, their families and all those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

But Superintendent John Watson said the district had to schedule classes a week later this year because of state testing schedules, which had Louisiana Educational Assessment Program test scores coming out May 16 and end-of-course exams for high schoolers continuing through May 23.

Livingston’s final exams are scheduled Monday through Wednesday, the last day of classes for students. Teachers and principals also work Thursday.

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Douglas Ducote said Friday “it was a slap in the face” to find out his daughter’s school system had scheduled classes on Memorial Day.

“That’s the most sacred day in America as far as veterans are concerned,” Ducote, of Walker, said.

“I lost 27 friends in four tours of duty and was injured, myself, in two of those tours,” Ducote said. “To choose to have class on that day is very, very disgraceful to us.”

Ducote said if the district needed additional class time, officials should have given up another school holiday instead.

“They have other days that aren’t federal holidays, like Mardi Gras and the Livingston Parish Fair day,” he said. “Those outweigh Memorial Day?”

Ducote, who heads Veterans United for Justice, said he and other veterans in the parish plan to address the issue at an upcoming School Board meeting.

Watson, the superintendent, said district officials “very much respect our veterans, both living and deceased, and show it in a number of ways over the year.”

Watson mentioned in particular Veterans Day, when the students have “very elaborate and very stirring programs and invite the veterans to come visit.”

Veterans Day is not a school holiday.

The district’s schools also will observe Memorial Day, Watson said, by flying flags at half-staff, making announcements over the loudspeaker and holding a silent reflection time.

Watson said the district had not held school open this late in several years — since he was a teacher, he said — and chose to do so this year primarily because of state testing schedules.

End-of-course testing at the high school level was scheduled for April 23 through May 23, and LEAP scores were not due back to the district until May 16.

Having the students still in school when the LEAP scores come back makes it easier to discuss the results with them and schedule remediation for those who did not score high enough to progress to the next grade level, he said.

Scheduling graduations for the district’s schools also caused some problems, Watson said.

Several schools hold their ceremonies at Southeastern’s University Center, making it difficult to get them all in before the last week of school, when everyone else is taking exams, he said.

With a similar state testing schedule in 2014-15, Livingston Parish schools are slated to hold classes next Memorial Day as well.

Ducote said he hopes school officials will change their minds before then.

As for Monday, Ducote said he and his family will spend the day at the U.S.S. Kidd, where Ducote is a Veterans Hall of Honor inductee.

“We always do things at the Kidd,” he said.

What most upset Ducote, he said, was the feeling that district officials saw Memorial Day as just another day.

“They talk about all the great things they do on Veterans Day — and I understand that; I’ve given speeches at the schools for those programs — but these guys sat down and made a combined decision to hold classes on this day,” Ducote said.

“You don’t disrespect the war dead. And if not for the veterans sticking up for them, they would have no voice.”