Plans are moving forward to open a French-language school in Pointe-aux-Chênes after the state legislature earmarked $3 million for the program.
The school, called École Pointe-au-Chien, hopes to begin serving students from pre-kindergarten to grade four in the parishes of Terrebonne and Lafourche in August 2023.
Governor John Bel Edwards signed the bill into law Friday during a ceremony at the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe building.
“I’m very excited because it helps preserve language, culture, heritage, traditions, and it’s all about resilience,” Edwards said. “It’s about surviving and keeping what’s most important to all of you.”
Members of the Pointe-au-Chien Tribe and the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indian Band of the Isle of Jean Charles had fought for months to use the campus as a French immersion school.
The Terrebonne Parish School Board voted to close Pointe-aux-Chênes Elementary School in April 2021, citing declining enrollment. About 100 Pointe-aux-Chênes students began attending Montegut Elementary School, about five miles away, last August.
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Parents protested the school’s closure and filed a federal lawsuit to keep it open. Eventually, the school board gave the building, badly damaged by Hurricane Ida, to the state for use as a French immersion school.
Many families in Pointe-aux-Chênes still speak French, a practice that began with their contact with the Acadians who settled in the area in the late 1700s. As of 2018, members of Native American tribes and other members of the community have submitted petitions to the school board to set up a program in French.
Officials said the next step is to form a council that will oversee the school. Télé-Louisiane, a medium that produces programs in French and other languages, has formed a non-profit association to support the school.
Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, a member of the Pointe-au-Chien tribe, said she appreciates the support and recognition from government officials for issues of concern to the community.
“It means a lot because it means you think of us and recognize us. The Louisiana Indians were kind of a forgotten people and so to have that relationship and that recognition is really important and empowering for everybody,” Ferguson-Bohnee said.
State Representative Tanner Magee, R-Houma, who introduced the bill to establish and fund the school, thanked the tribesmen and community of Pointe-aux-Chênes for their hard work.
“I want to thank all the tribal leaders for always supporting me, and you all know my door is always open,” Magee said. “And, finally, I want to thank the governor for signing the bill and supporting the bill. You don’t always get the governor’s support with legislation. But I think that’s one of those great examples of how we can still work together.