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Public schools issue fall plans

Rotation schedule for grades 6-12 if state is still in Phase Two
Sunday, July 19, 2020
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If Louisiana remains in Phase Two of reopening when the academic year starts next month, Lincoln Parish public school students in grades 6-12 will report to school in person every other day, according to a new comprehensive reopening plan issued Thursday to parents of the school system.

The first day of school has also been prospectively moved from Aug. 14 to Aug. 19, pending Lincoln Parish School Board approval at its August meeting.

The “Lincoln Parish Schools Strong Start Plan 2020-2021” outlines how teaching and learning, transportation, meals, safety, cleaning and athletics will look under each potential phase of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ novel coronavirus economic reopening plan.

Without an extension, Phase Two will expire on Friday, but schools Superintendent Mike Milstead said he expects the state will remain in Phase Two through the start of the school year.

If so, students in pre-K up to fifth grade — as well as sixth graders at Choudrant Elementary — will have in-person class every day, while students in grades 6-12 will be on an “AB” system. Classes will be split into two groups, and the groups will alternate days of in-person learning, conducting distance learning on the other days.

If Louisiana is in Phase Three, all students who come to school at all will do so Monday through Friday as normal. If the state moves backward into Phase One, all learning would be online, with some exceptions for special education students and those with no internet access.

Meanwhile, families who indicate to the school district by Friday that they do not yet want to send their students back to school at all will be able to enroll in the Lincoln Parish Schools Virtual Program, an all-online option with pre-recorded and in some cases live teaching materials. Some classes, such as band, will not be offered virtually.

Students would be able to transition back to in-person learning between the first and second nine-week grading period, if they so choose.

“We feel very good about the plan,” Milstead said. “I still believe that virtual (learning) will never replicate what you can do in a classroom, but we do have some very strong teachers who are right now making lessons that will be available online, and they’re doing a great job.

“We feel really good about where we are.”

Each Virtual Program participant will be issued a Chromebook-like device at no cost for use in online learning.

It’s these devices that caused the first day of school to be pushed back slightly, so that district personnel will have an extra three days before students arrive to process and disburse these devices to students and parents who are staying home, as well as informing them on proper use.

These extra days for employees will take the place of normal professional development days that are placed throughout the school year calendar.

Students who are rotating between virtual and in-person learning during Phase Two will also receive devices to take home when needed.

These will be disbursed after school begins.

The initial plan was to provide on-demand and live options for distancing learning in most classes, but Milstead said the school district is now leaning more toward prerecorded lessons in most cases.

“Pre-recorded sessions are going to be better, because they strictly address the subject at hand, whereas in a live classroom, you can tend to get off topic,” he said. “There will be some instances where we will have live sessions, but our preference now after research and talking about it is for everything to be prerecorded.”

The school year plan largely follows the guidelines originally issued by the Louisiana Department of Education, which were then adopted as minimum standards for all school districts by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) Tuesday.

Perhaps the most problematic part of the requirements for Lincoln Parish is the restriction on transportation.

Phase Two requires buses hold only 50% of its maximum occupancy. Phase Three raises that to 75%.

Milstead said that’s why the older students will be on rotation during Phase Two.

“In Phase Two, we cannot pick up every kid every day,” he said. “That’s the main reason we’re doing AB.”

He said cutting the number of in-person attendees in the older grades in half will allow the district to run enough extra bus routes to pick up all elementary students.

The other reason for the AB system is to split in-person class sizes in half to allow for more social distancing.

Milstead said discussion is still ongoing about what happens if Louisiana moves from Phase Two to Phase Three in the middle of the first nine-week grading period.

He said he personally feels the AB system, once started, should remain until the grading period is over so as to not throw students off track.

Student lunches will be converted to “grab and go” style meals.

K-2 students will still eat in the cafeteria, though in smaller rotations, to limit their mess.

Older students will be able to eat in their classrooms, outside, or in larger areas like gyms where they can social distance.

“We’ve got to do a good job of monitoring social distancing while they’re eating,” he said.

Students learning virtually at home will be able to pick up sack lunches at school sites in much the same fashion as this spring, when Edwards’ stayat-home order shut schools down completely.

As the district had already expected, the BESE policy also requires adults and students in grades 3-12 to wear a mask throughout each phase.

The Lincoln Parish schools plan says these masks must be solid colors with no writing or artwork on them.

Milstead has maintained throughout the summer that schools will try to avoid using disciplinary action to enforce mask-wearing and will be flexible.

“If a kid needs to take off a mask for five minutes, you can distance them and be flexible, whatever you need to do,” he said.

Milstead said the virtual learning option will be offered to special education students as well, but “We’re strongly encouraging them to come be live with us.”

“We’ll help them as much as we can, and we’ll do some homebound education, which we already do,” he said.

“We’re encouraging them to come, but we understand a lot of these children have preexisting medical conditions, and that won’t be possible.”

He said at the end of the day, schools must make every accommodation possible to fulfill these students’ Individualized Education Program.

Each sport is covered in a chart under each phase of the plan, outlining at which point players can practice, conduct scrimmages and play games.

No sports can play games in Phase One, only cross country and swimming can compete during Phase Two, and volleyball joins that group in Phase Three.

Football, basketball and soccer cannot play games until after Louisiana exits its threephase program.

The district has sent a survey to all faculty to gauge their comfort level with returning to work under the proposed plan, as well as the effectiveness of the plan’s communication.

There will also be a Facebook Live town hall meeting Monday at 6:30 p.m. on the “Lincoln Parish Schools” Facebook page, during which Milstead and other central office staff will answer questions from parents and community members via the social media platform.

The plan will be updated and sent out to parents again every Thursday as new information becomes available or adjustments are made.

Registration for all grades is going on now.