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School board talks reopening rules

Thursday, August 6, 2020
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At its regular meeting Tuesday, the Lincoln Parish School Board formally approved a state policy bulletin setting minimum standards for the reopening of schools, standards with which the district had already been preparing to comply for much of the summer.

Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) revised Bulletin 741 governs many topics of reopening like group sizes and transportation, most of which have already been addressed in the past weeks as the district unveiled and answered questions concerning its Lincoln Parish Strong Start plan for starting the school year amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic.

But central office staff did highlight some new information as they summarized the plan for board members during Tuesday’s meeting.


There are currently 2,110 students enrolled in the district’s fully online Virtual Program, and one of the logistical topics that has remained up in the air is how those students will receive the free meals they usually get at school.

“We know that’s going to be an issue,” Assistant Superintendent Lisa Bastion said.

Through the federal Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), all students eat free at every school in the district except Choudrant High School and Choudrant Elementary School. Parents of all those students who are now in the Virtual Program, plus the ones who do qualify for free meals at the Choudrant schools, will be able to pick up enough meals for each school day at designated school sites and take them home to their students.

The plan proposed Tuesday would have seen that pickup happen once a week and cover five days of meals. But on Wednesday, Bastion said the district heard that other school sys tems encountered problems with this method, so the frequency of these meal handouts has yet to be decided.

Unlike meal pickup during the spring closure, parents will have to fill out a form at each handoff verifying who picked up the meals and for which students.

Bastion said there is currently an application for all schools and school districts to be allowed under the CEP umbrella this year, in which case all virtual students could take part in the meal pickup, and the paperwork would not be so strenuous. But it’s uncertain whether that will come to pass.

She said the district is still working on a plan for students who will be on the alternating AB schedule and will want meals to take home on the days they will be learning virtually.


The district has already made clear that the final decision on who needs to quarantine when a student or teacher tests positive for the coronavirus will come from the Louisiana Department of Health on a case-by-case basis, based on its definition of “close contact” — having been within six feet of someone who tested positive for 15 minutes or longer.

This means that depending on how well social distancing is enforced on a campus, one positive test may result in no additional quarantining beyond that one person.

But Bastion said Tuesday that BESE guidance also mandates that if two or more students in the same classroom test positive within a 14-day period, the entire class must quarantine for 14 days.

“So we could have a second-grade classroom in one hall that’s quarantined, and then you could have a thirdgrade class in another hall,” she said. “Or you might just have one student (quarantining) from each one.”

AB schedule

In a change from previous announcements, Secondary Supervisor Ricky Durrett said sixth graders will not be part of the district’s alternating AB schedule during Phase Two of reopening. They will instead go to class every day, just like elementary students.

“We were going to have them on AB, but with as many going virtual as we have, they will go every day,” Durrett said. “That leaves about 142 kids at I.A. Lewis, which lets us have class sizes around 15-16 kids.”

The initial plan for splitting up the A and B groups in junior high and high school was to use the first letter of students’ last names, but now only Choudrant High will use that method. All other secondary schools will split by grade.

“That’s going to allow teachers time to teach on those days, and then some of them will not have as many classes the next day, so they can do virtual lessons for those kids,” Durrett said. “They will have office hours on those days so students can sign in on Google Meet and ask questions. We feel like that’s going to work really well for us.”

At Simsboro School, group A will consist of grades seven, nine and 11, while grades eight, 10 and 12 will make up Group B. Seventh graders at Ruston Junior High will comprise Group A, with eighth graders being Group B. Ruston High will be split with freshmen and sophomores as Group A and juniors and seniors as Group B.

Choudrant High, meanwhile, will split by letters of the alphabet because they didn’t have as many students sign up for virtual, Durrett said.

“In Ruston and Simsboro, we hopefully will not be needing subs,” he said. “We will be using teachers who don’t have kids (in person) that day to sub out. We’ll put them in teams of three where I may sub for two and a half hours, and then I have the rest of the day to work with my virtual kids.”

The AB schedule will persist until the state exits Phase Two of reopening, which Gov. John Bel Edwards recently extended until Aug. 28. Fully virtual students may remain that way when the state enters Phase Three, but all AB students will return to school each day at that point.

Virtual accountability

School board member Hunter Smith asked Durrett how the district plans to communicate to parents and students that the Virtual Program is not a “freebie” and attendance, testing and assignments will still be required.

“We know that at the start of school, there are going to be some who have planned to not do anything,” Durrett said. “If we see that someone hasn’t logged in or done anything the first week of school, we intend to work with our truancy department to start calling them and either get them back into school or get them participating in the virtual school.”

Durrett said truancy’s involvement would not be for the purpose of taking anyone to court, but simply to help establish contact with families whose students are not engaging.

“Can you get access, do we need to help you get access?” he said. “If not, we need to try to get you back in school.”