The Catholic Commentator

In May, special education teacher Casey Petitto will pack up her classroom at St. Louis King of France School in Baton Rouge for the summer break for the last time. But she won’t be traveling far with her boxes of teaching materials. That’s because St. Thomas More School in Baton Rouge will be offering special education for students in grades K – fourth. 

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Rex Lemoine, center, will join his siblings, from left, Ella, Anne Marie and Jojo, at St. Thomas More School in Baton Rouge next year. It will be the first year the school is offering special education for students in kindergarten through fourth grade. Photo provided by Patrice Lemoine

 

“I think it’ll be a good change for the kids to be at another welcoming school,” said Petitto, who will get a chance to see her new classroom over the summer. “I think it’s awesome of them to open their school to us. We’re all pretty excited about it.” 

Just weeks after the announcement that St. Louis King of France Church in Baton Rouge would close and the parish would be absorbed into St. Thomas More Church, located less than two miles away, the Diocese of Baton Rouge announced that SLKF School would close after the current school year. 

SLKF is one of nine schools that offer the Blessed Margaret of Castello REACH (Religious Education for All Children) Program. The closure of the school meant Petitto and her five students would have to relocate and possibly separate. That’s when Bethany Robichaux, director of special education for the Catholic Schools Office, said the schools office “approached the community (of STM), and based on the geographic needs of our families, it seemed liked a natural move for us.” 

“I kind of describe it to people as a Mary Poppins situation, like we’re just literally lifting the classroom and moving it,” Robichaux laughed. “Obviously, our families who are currently there are excited that we didn’t have to move them to another geographic program across town or potentially because of slots and settings, that we didn’t have a placement for them. That was a very real challenge we were looking at if we didn’t find a new home for the program.” 

STM principal Dr. Judy Armstrong said the school’s board unanimously approved accepting the REACH program from SLKF when Father Michael Alello presented it. She also said that the teachers have been “open and welcoming” and parents have been very positive about the new program being offered.

“I think this lets everyone know that we are welcoming, we are looking forward to this,” she said. “We want to embrace the program and we want to support these children.” 

One student who can’t wait to attend STM is Rex Lemoine, who will be in the fourth grade. Rex attended pre-school at STM when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. His mother, Patrice Lemoine, said the illness and chemotherapy affected her son’s learning ability so he was moved to the special education classes at Our Lady of Mercy School in Baton Rouge.

But, the commute has put a strain on the family’s schedule. 

The Lemoine’s live near STM and have two other children at the school, Jojo, 12, and Anne Marie, 8. Patrice Lemoine said her husband, Joseph, sometimes works out of town so she had to coordinate a pick-up schedule with her mother. Now, four of the five Lemoine children, including 3-year-old Ella, will be attending STM in the fall (oldest daughter Haley is 24). 

“I think it’s going to make my life a lot easier,” she said. “Hopefully, he will be able to ride the bus because right now, Jojo and Anne Marie ride the bus.” 

“I’m excited about going to see my friends and my teacher,” said Rex. “I really miss my friends a lot.”

Lemoine said his siblings are also excited that Rex will be joining them in the fall.

“They were really excited when I told them,” she said. “They’ll see each other through the day and they’ll give each other a little wave and acknowledge each other so I think they’re going to love Rex being there and seeing him at school.” 

According to Robichaux, geography plays a large part for families making decisions concerning special education. 

And, the families overall, when we contacted them and said this is where we’re going to be, just got great feedback from our current families,” she said. “We have two families who couldn’t attend because the drive was just going to be too much, who now say that St. Thomas More could work with their commute. So, we anticipate six to eight kids there. Currently, we’re at five.”