St. Helena Parish, La., Schools Cited for Safety Issues

September 1, 2010

The Louisiana State Fire Marshal has given St. Helena Central High School in St. Helena Parish a 30-day deadline for repairing fire alarms and inadequate wiring.

A report from the fire marshal is one of three reports from state agencies citing problems in St. Helena Parish public schools.

Air vents are causing contamination in the cafeteria of St. Helena Central Elementary School, a report by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals states.

A state Department of Environmental Quality report cites problems of asbestos, mold-like substances and ceiling leaks in parish schools.

Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered inspections and reports on the schools.

The condition of the schools has become an issue in a 57-year-old desegregation lawsuit involving the St. Helena Parish school system.

Daisy Slan, the superintendent of parish schools, said she needs help mainly in the form of modular classrooms as quickly as possible.

She said she is trying to get contractor quotes, but doesn’t see how she can meet the Fire Marshal’s deadline.

In addition to the age and condition of the main high-school structure, Slan said, “the problem is that we have buildings scattered all across the campus.”

Some of those buildings aren’t suitable for use as classrooms in their current condition, Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning said.

The fire alarms and electrical issues are serious problems, he said.

The high school is being allowed to continue to operate for 30 days as long as it conducts regular fire watches and keeps logs of those fire watches, Browning said.

Slan said that, so far, she has only had to move students out of the chemistry lab.

While trying to get prices on doing the work required by the fire marshal, she said she is also working with an architect and civil engineer to determine what would have to be done in site preparation to get modular buildings moved to the school from New Orleans where the buildings have been stored since their use after Hurricane Katrina.

“I need those temporary buildings moved here and set up as quickly as possible,” Slan said.

Meanwhile, attorney Jay Augustine, who represents plaintiffs in the desegregation lawsuit, filed a motion in U.S. District Court seeking an immediate hearing on an earlier request for an order to have the state move the modular buildings to St. Helena.

That would provide a short-term solution, he said.

Another motion already before the court asks for a long-term solution, Augustine said.

In that motion, the plaintiffs have asked for a court-imposed property tax for schools.

Providing the resources for public schools is a community responsibility, but voters have repeatedly killed attempts to raise property taxes for schools, Slan said.

“Kids have a right to go to school in a safe, hazard-free environment,” she said.

She said she wants St. Helena to have safe school facilities so children can move on with their educations and high-school seniors can graduate on time.

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