School in the Time of COVID-19: How will the Region’s Public Schools Teach this Year?

Lack of childcare is an economic threat. With schools closed, parents who must return to work are faced with the unexpected, and sometimes unbearable, expense of alternative childcare. This is causing some parents to join the ranks of the unemployed, putting their children at risk.  

For that reason, BRAC wanted to examine the reopening plans being made by school districts. Below is a comprehensive look at each district plan across the 12 public districts in the nine-parish area of the Capital Region. As one can see, there is commonality of using hybrid reopening across the districts, even though their execution of a hybrid scenario will differ.  The pressure on school districts and their staff from all fronts is high. 

Many voices are calling for schools to reopen fully because of concern for the non-economic effects of school closure. Parents, educators, doctors, policymakers and others are concerned about students’ social and emotional health, stopping the learning loss that comes with prolonged school closure, the questionable effectiveness of distance learning (especially for littler children), inadequate internet access in low-income communities, and more.  

Still others have good arguments for keeping schools closed: the health risks to teachers and students, the expense and logistics of operating schools with occupancy limits and COVID-19 health and safety protocols, and the potential in-person school creates for another wave of infection spikes are all very real concerns for which definitive answers are scarce.  

As regards these questions, the American Academy of Pediatrics has urged that, “all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” Joining the AAP are many others, including a former director of the CDC and the education secretaries for former Presidents Bush and Obama, who proposed eight steps to safely reopening schools. Here locally, the pediatricians of the Baton Rouge Clinic released similar guidance, stating, “we believe that this Fall, children should return to school full-time and will be better off at school than trying to learn at home.”  

Just last week, Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved policy changes that reflect the department of education’s (LDE) Strong Start 2020 plan, setting out minimum health and safety standards and protocols for reopening schools. The standards and guidelines include the following, among others: 

Phase I Phase II Phase III All Phases 
Maximum gathering size: 10 people

School bus occupancy: limited to 25%, one person per seat, every other seat empty

No indoor wind instruments or vocal practice  
Maximum gathering size: 25 people

School bus occupancy: limited to 50%, dispersed as much as possible

No indoor wind instruments or vocal practice  
Maximum gathering size: 50 people

School bus occupancy: limited to 75%, dispersed as much as possible

Wind instruments and vocal practice with physical distancing  
All public schools/districts will require a face covering – as much as possible and practical – for adults and students grades 3-12

Use physical distancing standards

Monitor adults and students for symptoms of COVID-19, including daily temperature checks upon school entrance

Clean and sanitize often and provide employees adequate materials for such cleaning

Limit visits to school to essential visitors

Children grades 2 or lower should be organized into static groups that do not change over the year 

Here in the Capital Region, each of the 12 public school districts and charter operators have put together reopening plans, explaining how they will operate schools in the coming months. Each plan is a variation on a theme of up to three options: 1) 100% in-person; 2) 100% virtual; and 3) a hybrid of in-person and virtual schooling. The plans are further organized by phase of reopening, following proclamations by the Governor that are guided by the White House’s recommended three-phase approach.  

Districts have been gathering parent and stakeholder feedback over the course of the summer. Some released plans several weeks ago, others only just a few days back. Of the 12 districts, perhaps the most interesting plan is in implementation in St. Helena Parish, where children started back at school three weeks before most districts. Each of these three additional weeks were built in by St. Helena’s leadership for a particular purpose. July 13 kicked off a week to focus on the technology needed for distance learning. July 20 starts a week for benchmarking assessments, allowing the district to measure where students stand academically. The week of July 27 will begin initial instruction. In addition to this extra time, the district also held a simulation day on July 16 to test out the practicality of the new health and safety protocols that will be required for in-person school. Parents and students were invited to attend.  

Here’s the lineup of what schools in the Capital Area are planning. With almost no exception, all schools will provide 100% virtual learning if Louisiana re-enters Phase I of reopening. More information can be accessed by clicking on each district’s name. 

 Phase II Phase III Additional Details 
Ascension Parish Schools Preschool – 5th grade students will attend school in person on a daily basis (with modification during the first week).    Middle and high school students will follow a hybrid model, attending in person on assigned days, and learning virtually the other days.  All students will attend in person, with consideration made for enrollment and building capacity. In each phase, all families may choose 100% virtual learning. The first day of school has been delayed from August 5 to August 10. During the first week, school will dismiss one hour early to allow staff to debrief.  
Baker Community Schools  Preschool – 5th grade students will attend school in person daily.  Middle school students will follow a hybrid model, attending school in person two days a week and learning virtually the other days.   9th grade students will attend school in person two days a week and learn virtually the other days.   10th – 11th grade students will attend school in person one day a week and learn virtually the other days.   12th grade students will attend school in person two days a month and learn virtually the other days.  All students will attend school in person daily. In each phase, all families may choose 100% virtual learning.  
Central Community Schools  Preschool – 6th grade students will attend school in person daily.  Grades 7-12 will follow a hybrid model, attending in person on assigned days, and learning virtually the other days. Grades 7 and 8 will attend school in person daily.   All other Phase II attendance provisions will remain in place. In each phase, all families may choose 100% virtual learning.  
East Baton Rouge Parish Schools  On July 22, the district announced it will open with 100% virtual learning, which will continue until at least September 7, 2020.   If the district follows its original reopening plan, after the initial 100% virtual period, students will follow a hybrid model, attending in person two days a week, and learning virtually the other days.   Students will be split into attendance groups by last name.  Students in low-incident, self-contained classrooms will attend school four days a week. These include classrooms for students with learning, emotional, developmental, or other exceptionalities.   Students will gradually resume daily in-person attendance. In each phase, all families may choose 100% virtual learning.  Paper instructional materials will be distributed to students with connectivity concerns or to complement the virtual learning experience if needed.   
East Feliciana Parish Schools  Students will follow a hybrid model, attending in person two days a week, and learning virtually the other days.   Students with exceptionalities may attend school in person.  All students will attend school in person daily. In each phase, all families may choose 100% virtual learning.  
Iberville Parish Schools Preschool through 6th grade students will attend school in person.   7th – 12th grade students will follow a hybrid model, attending in person in an alternating schedule and learning virtually the other days. Preschool – 8th grade students will attend school in person daily.   9th-12th grade students will remain in the hybrid model.  In each phase, all families may choose 100% virtual learning.  
Livingston Parish Schools Preschool through 2nd grade students will attend school in person daily.  3rd – 12th grade students will follow a hybrid model, attending class two days a week and every other Friday and learning virtually the other days.   Students with exceptionalities will attend school in person daily.   All students will attend school in person daily. In each phase, students who are unable to attend school in-person will be offered alternative learning models.  
Pointe Coupee Parish Schools All students will attend in person daily.  All students will attend in person daily. In each phase, all families may choose 100% virtual learning.  
St. Helena Parish Schools Preschool – Kindergarten, 3rd – 4th grade, and 7th– 8th grade students will attend in person three days a week and learn virtually the other days.   1st and 2nd grade, 5th-6th grade, and 9th – 12th grade students will attend in person two days a week and learn virtually the other days.      All students will attend in person daily. In each phase, all families may choose 100% virtual learning.  School started early, on July 13, with three weeks of technology checks, diagnostic assessments, and initial instruction leading to the scheduled start date.   SHPS conducted a “simulation day” to allow students, parents, and staff to experience a school day under new health and safety requirements.   
West Baton Rouge Parish Schools Preschool – 6th grade students will attend in person daily.   7th – 12th grade students will follow a hybrid model, attending school in person two days a week and learning virtually the other days. All students will attend in person daily In each phase, all families may choose 100% virtual learning.  
West Feliciana Parish All Preschool – 8th grade students will attend in person daily. All high school students will attend in person four days a week and learn virtually the other day.All students will attend in person daily. In each phase, all families may choose 100% virtual learning. 
Zachary Community Schools Zachary Schools will have a transition period from August 10 to September 4, in which students will follow a hybrid model, attending in person two days a week and learning virtually the other days.   It is anticipated that at the end of the transition, the state will have entered Phase III.  All students will attend in person daily. In each phase, all families may choose 100% virtual learning.  
Charter Schools Charter schools across the Baton Rouge Area are also implementing a phased approach. Charter operators supported by New Schools for Baton Rouge engaged in a grant-funded strategic planning process regarding school operation through COVID-19. This included, as did most districts, surveys of families and educators to determine needs and preferences. Each school will have a fully virtual option available in each phase of reopening. School reopening plans emphasize a hybrid model. Reopening plans have been communicated to families. As in the area’s traditional schools, the youngest learners are prioritized for return to in-person instruction.  

Parents should take the time now to understand the options available and ensure their preferences are communicated to their children’s schools. Operating schools through this pandemic will require incredible logistics work, professional development, and flexibility from school staff. Parents and students should prepare themselves to also be flexible; circumstances may change quickly.  

Health professionals testifying before the BESE board noted that families should anticipate short-term closures as small clusters of classes may need to quarantine. They further noted that improved treatment options, better understanding of how the virus spreads among children, or an available vaccine would be a cause to reevaluate these plans.  

As with so much regarding this pandemic, now is the time for our community to work together. With patience and proper precaution, we have a chance to engage Baton Rouge’s children in a safe learning environment. And in so doing, we may also have a chance to help our ailing economy along the way.  

Liz Smith

As BRAC’s senior vice president of economic competitiveness, Liz leads the organization’s public policy advocacy, strategy, research, and reform activities aimed at advancing the quality of life and economic competitiveness of the Baton Rouge Region.

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