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School closure extension likely coming

Thursday, April 2, 2020
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Gov. John Bel Edwards said earlier this week he plans to extend Louisiana’s stay-at-home coronavirus response order through April 30, and while he had yet to officially do so by Wednesday afternoon, that likely means students won’t go back to school until then.

Edwards initially ordered schools to be closed until April 13 as COVID-19 cases began climbing in mid-March. The Department of Education is waiting on the governor’s official extension of that order before closing schools any longer.

The push back to April 30 would align Louisiana with the latest recommendations from President Donald Trump on Sunday.

Lincoln Parish Schools have been out of class since March 16 and are currently in their previously scheduled spring break this week. Superintendent Mike Milstead said the impending return date extension is “not coming as a surprise” and speculated that the governor may soon order closure for the rest of the school year.

“I’m hoping he does not do that, but with the intensity of things right now with the coronavirus, I think he probably will consider that,” Milstead said. “I hate it for our kids, but safety is more important than the education process right now, unfortunately.”

Statewide coronavirus cases climbed to more than 6,000 Wednesday with 273 deaths. Lincoln Parish had 13 confirmed cases at that time, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

“We knew the (April 13) date was picked because somebody felt like down the road we may be on the downside of this thing by then, but certainly nothing has indicated that in the time since,” Milstead said.

He said the school board plans to sustain personnel pay throughout the downtime, regardless of how long that ends up being.

The school district’s meal pickup service for area students will resume on Monday in much the same fashion as it was before being temporarily suspended on March 23. Schools passed out about four meals per child that day and have not conducted the service since.

Milstead said the district plans to continue the meal service for as long as schools remain closed. It was discontinued for four days last week due to shortages in personal protective equipment, but Milstead said the National Guard is promising to keep those supplies stocked.

“That’s not supposed to be an issue again,” he said. “I’ve had that commitment from the National Guard, and they assured us they have plenty for everybody. So barring any unforeseen things coming our way, we feel comfortable we’ll have the PPEs for our folks to make sure we don’t compound the situation by having any sick folks working.”

All food service workers and other volunteers from the schools are required to wear gloves and masks while preparing and distributing the meals, as wellas undergoing temperature checks upon arrival.

While certain requirements, such as end-of-year testing and minimum in-person instructional minutes, have already been waived by the state, more questions remain about how prolonged school closures will affect students in this school year and the next.

“How do you handle course credits for kids who have not completed everything associated with the course?” Milstead said. “How do you handle kids who have not completed requirements for graduation? We feel like some of those requirements will be waived… but those are the types of questions we don’t have answers to yet.”

Those answers will have to come from the state’s Department of Education and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in the coming days.

Citing recent conversations with BESE members, Milstead said the state board is mulling several options, including extending this school year, starting next school year earlier, or adding extra hours into next school year on a voluntary basis. He noted extending the current school year is the least likely option.

“I don’t see any way of that happening, in my opinion,” he said.

The district is currently slated to have its last day of classes on May 21 and start back up on Aug. 14.