The Louisiana Department Education released comprehensive guidelines to start the 2020-21 school year, which include mandates based on the three phases of COVID-19 mitigation, including mandatory face masks for students in third grade and above.
How it will look for the schools in West Baton Rouge Parish – or any other school system in the state – is not yet final.
“We don’t want to roll something out today and have it change tomorrow or next week,” Watts said.
Superintendent of Schools Wes Watts said the school system plans to provide additional guidance for parents later this week, but the looks and feel of school will be largely based on which phase of reopening the state is in when classes start back up in the fall.
For Phase One, all students will engage in remote learning at home except select students with high needs. In Phase Two, the plan is for students up to sixth grade to attend classes on campus with remaining middle and high school students attending on an alternating schedule of two days on campus and three days of remote learning. In Phase Three, all students will attend classes on campus.
WBR Schools will offer access to the virtual academy to students who are not comfortable coming back to campus or who live with family members with underlying conditions. The virtual academy will provide instruction to students via video conferencing during traditional class time and a library of pre-recorded video lessons.
Watts said he is hoping for Phase Three but likes the plan for Phase Two.
Many school systems are gearing up for an opening based on the current Phase Two guidelines, and the majority of those districts are offering options similar to the WBR Schools virtual academy.
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The DOE’s 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 to State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley.
“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.
WBR Schools will focus on the following “key points” of operation, Watts said.
• Encouraging handwashing and providing hand sanitizer
• Requiring a face covering for students in third grade and above to the extent possible
• Social distancing
• Temperature checks
• Sanitization of buildings
• Encouraging parents to keep students home if they are sick
The key points are structured around CDC guidelines, the DOE guidelines and preferences of local parents who completed the WBR Schools survey. While the local survey results showed few parents were interested in their children wearing face masks on campus, it is a requirement under the DOE’s guidelines.
“Face coverings are expected, but they will not be an all-day, every day thing,” Watts said. “We’re going to do everything possible to make sure our students and staff members safe while at school.”
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.