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School district answers reopening questions

Wednesday, July 22, 2020
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Leader staff photo

Pictured is a screenshot of what viewers on Facebook saw Monday as administrative staff of the Lincoln Parish School Board hosted a “town hall” meeting to address questions about the school reopening plan.

The Lincoln Parish School District hosted its first of multiple planned “town hall” meetings streamed live on Facebook Monday to answer community members’ questions about the district’s plan for starting the school year in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Parents received an outline of the plan last week, detailing students’ options for virtual or in-person learning with three phases of restrictions that correspond to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ phases of reopening Louisiana.

Superintendent Mike Milstead, Assistant Superintendent Lisa Bastion, Communications Coordinator Brandon Sutherland, Supervisor of Elementary Education Lisa Mangum and Secondary Supervisor Ricky Durrett spent about 40 minutes addressing questions they had prepared to answer beforehand, then another 20 minutes or so answering questions submitted live on Facebook.

The full meeting can be viewed on the Lincoln Parish Schools Facebook page. Close to 900 people watched it live, and since then it had accrued some 10,000 views by Tuesday morning. The next “town hall” meeting will take place Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

Below is a summary of some of the topics discussed, focusing on information that was not detailed in Sunday’s edition of the Ruston Daily Leader.

COVID-19 in the classroom

Bastion answered questions related to what the district plans to do when a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19. She said the plan is based on current Louisiana Department of Health guidelines, but those guidelines will be updated later this week.

“A question we’ve been hearing is, ‘Will I be contacted if someone is positive in my child’s class?’” Bastion said. “You will only be contacted if your child is considered to have been in close contact (with the positive individual).”

“Close contact” is defined by the CDC and LDH as being closer than 6 feet to an infected individual for longer than 15 minutes at a time.

Anyone who fits this definition will be asked to quarantine at home for 14 days and monitor their symptoms.

“LDH wants us to call them on each case and get their guidance,” Bastion said. “LDH will make the call on a case by case basis as to whether a teacher or students need to quarantine, or if the entire class needs to quarantine.”

Meanwhile, those who test positive will need to isolate at home for at least 10 days from their first day of symptoms, perhaps longer if they are still symptomatic or have not gone 24 hours without running a fever.

“As a parent, we think you should be prepared this year for different situations,” Bastion said.

“AB” scheduling

Students in grades 6-12, except sixth graders at Choudrant Elementary, who choose to attend in-person classes will be split into two groups who alternate going to school every other day. Each group will do virtual learning from home on the days they’re not at school.

“Most likely the groups will be divided by the alphabet so we can reduce each class size,” Durrett said. “So a group will come on Monday, a separate group will come on Tuesday, and we will rotate every other day as long as we’re in Phase Two.”

He said principals will work with siblings who have different last names to ensure that households can attend school on the same day.

In response to a question after the meeting, Durrett and Milstead said that when the state moves into Phase Three, the district should be able to drop the AB schedule on the first day Phase Three goes into effect and bring all non-virtual learners to campus five days a week.

Durrett said the goal for grades 6-12 is to have no more than 15 students in any class, sometimes as low as eight. In elementary, class sizes will be no more than 24. That’s because elementary students can maintain static groups all day long, whereas older students must attend various classes with different students due to numerous graduation pathways.


As previously announced, masks will be required for grades 3-12 when at school. Grades K-2 can wear them but won’t be mandated to do so.

However, all children will be required to wear a mask when riding the bus, regardless of age.

All employees and students will be provided with one cloth mask, and schools will keep a supply of cheaper paper masks on hand as extras.

Exemptions will be given to students and employees with preexisting conditions on a case by case basis.

Bastion said schools will work with students to allow them to take “mask breaks” as necessary.

“There will be times where they can take a mask break while they’re away from people and need to pull it off and take a couple of breaths,” she said. “That’s always possible, and we will work with anyone who needs to do that.” Virtual learning

Virtual learning

Families may choose to enroll their students in in-person learning, as normal, or the Lincoln Parish Virtual Program. The deadline to register for virtual learning, which can be done at the school board office or on their website, is Friday.

“Whichever option you choose, that will be the option you’re in for the first nine weeks,” Milstead said.

He said he wanted to clarify that the virtual program is still part of the Lincoln Parish school system.

“Virtual is not homeschooling,” he said. “We want to offer to parents the opportunity to keep their child at home for nine weeks at a time, and during that process your child will receive instruction virtually. Homeschooling, on the other hand, is a complete withdrawal from our school system, and you do it on your own without any resources from the school system.”

Registration for the virtual option does not mean parents must fully re-enroll their student in the school system. It’s a separate form that can be found at under the “student registration” tab.

Distance learning will be run entirely through Google Classroom. Unlike this spring, assignments will be graded and attendance taken, just like in-person classes. Also unlike the spring, paper packets will not be sent home to complement the virtual learning.

For those students who do not have reliable internet access, the district has purchased hotspot-generating devices, but they will only work if the area in which a student lives has access to Verizon or AT&T service.

“For those of you not in those areas, we’re working with some community outreach programs to help provide a location for your child to have internet access. If we have space, we may be able to allow some of these students (with connectivity issues) to attend in person on days when they normally wouldn’t in the AB schedule.

“The district has also purchased Chromebooks for students in grades 3-12 to use in school and take home, as well as touchscreen devices for younger students. However, Bastion said those devices have not yet shipped and could arrive by Sept. 1 or later.

At school

The first day of school for all students has been moved from Aug. 14 to Aug. 19. In the final days leading up to Aug. 19, schools will hold open houses for parents to meet teachers, receive more information, and fill out forms for things like device rental.

“It could be a very long time before parents are allowed in classrooms again,” Mangum said. “So this could be your only opportunity for an extended time to meet your teacher.”

Sutherland said school districts in Louisiana are still waiting on guidance from the state about whether standardized testing, which was canceled this spring, will resume next spring or not.

He also gave listeners a breakdown of sanitation plans for school facilities.

Every teacher will be supplied with hand sanitizer and disinfectant. Students will sanitize their hands every time they enter or exit a classroom. Multitouch surfaces will be frequently wiped down throughout the day, and students will be required to wash their hands at several points.

Each school will have a designated area to hold students who develop symptoms during the school day until their parents can pick them up.

Elementary students will maintain their static groups even when outside the classroom, such as recess time. Each school will have an individualized plan for how to keep the groups separated during recess and P.E. activities.

Bastion said school meals will look “very different” than normal, but the district is still working on a specific plan. The plan will include providing to-go lunches in some form for students who are learning from home.

High school seniors who are usually required to take at least five classes, even if their graduation pathway needs fewer than that, will see that threshold lowered to four this year.