The Lafourche Parish School District will release its re-opening plan for the 2020-2021 school year early Wednesday morning.
Schools Superintendent Jarod Martin said in advance of the plan being put into action that he’s confident that the parish can maintain its position as one of the best school districts in the state — even while following social distancing protocols.
Martin appeared on the Casey’s Corner Podcast on Tuesday afternoon and shared some of the things that parents and students should expect to see when school resumes in early August — a multi-tiered plan that closely follows the safety recommendations created by the CDC and the Louisiana Department of Education.
(You can listen to that interview by clicking here. Mr. Martin begins at 30:00 into the podcast.)
Martin said he believes in his staff and the community and he knows that the parish will make the most of a tough situation.
“Being a product of Lafourche Parish and growing up here, one thing I know is that we’re going to figure out a solution to this problem,” Martin said. “What we are committed to is providing a top-tier education to all of our children. Part of that top-tier education and part of the service that we provide is allowing families to go about their professional lives while we take good care of their children and keep them safe. Those are our priorities: student safety, providing a place where children can be safe as their parents go about their professional lives and maintaining our status as a top-tier educational institution in the state of Louisiana. We feel confident that we have a plan that accomplishes all of those things and that gives us the freedom to move from one situation to the next.”
Martin talked about versatility. The Lafourche plan has that.
Martin said Lafourche Parish Schools will operate in 2020-2021 based on what phase of the Economic Re-Opening plan the state is in during a given time.
If in Phase 3, schools will be opened to all students with obvious social distancing protocols in place to better keep students apart.
If we are unable to push past Phase 2, schools will be open for in-class learning, but enrollment will be cut in half. One half of students at a school will attend classes on Mondays and Wednesdays and the other half will attend on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each group will attend school every other Friday in rotation.
If we revert out of Phase 2 and back to Phase 1, on-campus learning will close down and the school system will go back to the online learning that was in place at the end of the last school year.
One of the most important facets of the Lafourche plan is that each individual family has a choice and no student will be penalized or left behind if his/her parent does not feel safe.
If a parent chooses to bypass on-campus learning, they will be eligible to do Phase I online learning through Google Classroom all year. Classes will be recorded, filmed and uploaded and the children will be able to get the same instruction as their peers, as well as the same coursework.
If a students’ household does not have the financial means to obtain technology to create a digital classroom, there will be both ChromeBooks and also Internet Hot Spots available to bring the technology to every kids’ home, and Martin said he wanted to stress that no child will be left behind and no one will be judged by the decisions they make.
“We’re offering that virtual learning model for any family who needs it in any phase,” Martin said. “I think it’s important for people to know that, because this is going to be a challenging time and people may have to navigate from one (phase) to the other and we want to offer that opportunity.”
If students participate in on-campus learning, there will be changes in how school will look.
Martin said Lafourche Parish Schools have secured hundreds of forehead thermometers and students will have their temperatures checked daily upon arriving to campus. On school buses, in Phase 2, buses will be allowed to operate with 50 percent capacity. In Phase 3, buses can operate at 75 percent capacity. In both phases, the windows must be down on the bus to allow for exterior ventilation, and the driver must be masked.
Martin said the school system will create its busing schedule and its boundaries to ensure that buses will not exceed capacity.
In classrooms, students from grades 3-12 will be asked to wear masks, unless a medical condition is present that makes masking unsafe. Martin said each school will have supplies of masks on hand, but he’s asking each parent to purchase a washable cloth mask for his/her child.
The masks can have any color or design, so long as that design is appropriate for school-aged children.
In classrooms, students will be spaced out, but they will also be stationary, meaning that groups of children will be kept together in the same classroom throughout the day, and teachers will rotate to them, as opposed to students coming and going to various classrooms throughout the day.
Martin said social distancing will be practiced and students will be kept 6 feet apart (when possible), but in some smaller classrooms, they’ll likely be more realistically 4 or 4 and a half feet apart. Because of the masking regulations, the CDC says that’s safe.
Students will still be fed in the cafeteria, but eating policies will change.
For younger children, they will be given specific assigned seating spaces in school cafeterias where they will be asked to eat, then wash their hands, then return to class at the guidance of their teachers. But for older students, they will likely have more liberties and larger, more open spaces will be created for students to pick up their lunch, then eat in the designated area before washing their hands and returning to class.
Martin said that sanitation is a top priority of the Lafourche Parish School District, but that parents will not have to foot the bill to keep schools safe and clean.
Martin said the school district has received federal grant dollars for adequate cleaning supplies, so he’s asking all principals to remove sanitation products from their schools supply lists, because those items will be taken care of by federal money.
The school district will release a specific sanitation plan as part of their overall plan for re-opening. That specific plan will be released on Wednesday.
And all throughout the year, Lafourche will be heavily cleaning and sanitizing its classrooms. Martin said that in addition to sanitation products, the schools have all purchased fogging machines, which will instantly disinfect classrooms, and all janitors will be training in the coming weeks to use those machines.
Martin said it’s inevitable that a student will get sick in the school year — that’s a realty of our world.
He said Lafourche has a plan for identifying cases and tracing to try and stop widespread outbreaks from happening.
If a student tests positive, he/she will be sent home, the areas that student frequented within the school will be deep cleaned, and both the local health department and the school district will be notified immediately. All students who came in direct contact with that student will be quarantined, as well, as a precaution. Martin said that state health officials define “direct contact’ as interaction less than 6 feet apart from the positive patient for more than 15 minutes.
Because of that, Martin said, he doesn’t anticipate any mass quarantines for whole classes or large pieces of student populations when positive tests come.
Martin also said that because a whole grading period was lost in the spring, curriculum will be altered. For example, the first 9-weeks of the school year will start as a baseline where teachers can complete what was missed, then move forward.
The finalized plan will be released on Wednesday, and Martin said he and his team will continue to study the latest trends of the virus in the coming weeks, and they’ll tweak or adjust anything, as needed to stay out front of the situation.
But one thing that Martin said will not change is the school district’s commitment to education.
Lafourche has one of the top public school districts in the state and that’s going to remain in tact in 2020-2021 — COVID or not.
“Without a doubt,” Martin said. “Our teachers are second to none and they’re going to make this happen and they’re going to do it in sound, sound way. I was really proud at the end of the last school year whenever we stood up the Google platform and our teachers were videoing and providing online instruction. Whether it’s in-person or online instruction, I know our teachers are up to the task.”