BATON ROUGE – Comprehensive guidelines the Louisiana Department Education released today to start the 2020-21 school year include mandates based on the three phases of COVID-19 mitigation, including mandatory use of face masks.
How it will look for the schools in Iberville Parish – or any other school system in the state – remains to be seen. Many school systems are gearing toward an opening based on the current Phase 2 guidelines, and the majority of those districts are offering options of a traditional class setting or virtual instruction, based on discretion of the parent or guardian.
A return to Phase 3 would allow more students in classrooms and appear, to some degree, closer in format to the traditional classroom setting. A return to Phase 1 would relegate all students to virtual instruction.
Officials in the Iberville Parish School System had put the wheels in motion to determine how it would implement a school system during the pandemic, but it does not make the process any easier to plan for the upcoming year, Superintendent Dr. Arthur Joffrion said.
“There’s still so much unknown,” he said. “We’re used to having answers by this time in the year, but it’s a lot harder which leaves so much uncertain.”
Officials from the state Department of Education with the 69 school systems on ways to work toward a school year amid the constant changes with the pandemic.
One of the few areas of certainty comes in how a school would operate in the various phases. The guidelines for Phase 2, the current restriction mode for COVID-19, allows only 50 capacity in the classrooms and buses, which poses a challenge on issues with transportation and space on campuses.
Parents will have the option of virtual classes, while Joffrion has not ruled out the possibility of alternate schedules for high school students, although no decision has been made.
He will meet July 2 with personnel from the committees that have been in place to prepare for the next school year. Final decisions will come during a virtual meeting July 9.
“We should have answers by mid-July and have everything finalized to provide answers for parents,” Joffrion said. “We haven’t dealt with anything like this before, but we want to make sure in the process that we put the wellbeing of the students and employees at the forefront,” he said. “We’re taking every decision seriously and we’ve given a lot of thought to every option.”
The 20-page document “Strong Start 2020” also includes requirements on classroom size, rules for young and older students, bus capacity, student group size, and food prep and meal service.
Each school district across Louisiana will ultimately decide how to operate, but guidelines cover how to prepare for three possible reopening scenarios – traditional, hybrid or distance/remote learning, according State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley.
It will also explain how health requirements will change based on the three opening scenarios based on Phases 1-3, and how to respond to positive or presumptive positive cases on campus.
"We developed this guidance by engaging experts on the virus - public health officials - and experts on what this guidance looks like when put into practice - school leaders and educators," Brumley said. "We understand next year will be a new challenge for all of us as we educate through COVID-19. I have confidence in our collective talents to overcome these challenges. We will depend on each other for innovative ideas, best practices and the promise of a quality education for every child."
Public health officials, education leaders and other key stakeholders also worked on development of the guidelines.
Maximum Group Size: (Phase 1) 10, including adults; (Phase 2) 25, including adults and (Phase 3), including adults.
Younger Students: (All three phases) Maintain static groups, understanding individuals may come into close contact and may not be wearing face coverings.
Older Students: If students are able to maintain physical distance, the group’s composition may change. Students maintain physical distance of six feet in classroom/indoor settings to the maximum extent possible.
Physical Standards: Groups convene indoors in rooms enclosed by walls or partitions; High- -touch surfaces (e.g., desks, doorknobs) are cleaned before and after each group’s use; Groups are separated outdoors but do not require a physical barrier; Limit crowding at entry and exit points: maintain maximum group sizes and physical distance recommendations to the maximum extent possible.
Athletics: (Phase 1 and 2) Refrain from contact and high-risk sports; (Phase 3) Contact/high-risk sports allowable within defined groups.
Symptom monitoring: (Phase 1 and 2): Assess students on arrival and throughout the day, including and conducting an initial temperature check; establish an area that can be used to isolate sick students, and clean and disinfect the isolation area after the sick student has gone.
Phase 1: Restrictions mandate a limit of 25 percent capacity on each bus. School bus passengers ride one per seat with every other seat empty. Members of the same household may sit in the same seat or adjacent seats, with an empty seat between household groups.
Phases 2 and 3: Bus drivers must take the number of seats and multiply by the percentage of the manufacturer’s capacity. This is the maximum number of people allowed on the bus at any given time. It also requires spacing and disbursing of passengers to the maximum extent possible.
The 20-page “Strong Start 2020” document, with the entire list of guidelines, is available online at www.louisianabelieves.com.