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School district hosts 2nd ‘town hall’

Thursday, July 30, 2020
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More than 2,100 students in Lincoln Parish public schools have registered for the district’s virtual learning program for the start of the 2020-21 school year coming up in three weeks.

That’s the latest figure from the second “town hall” meeting held by school district staff over Facebook Live on Tuesday, in which Superintendent Mike Milstead and other central office personnel answered questions emailed in by parents about the upcoming school year.


The enrollment period for the virtual program, which the district is offering as an alternative at-home platform this year for families concerned about the novel coronavirus pandemic, ended Friday. The response, which Milstead said made up almost 40% of the total school system, exceeds the roughly 25% who answered a previous survey from the district saying they would want to keep their students home this fall.

The virtual registration was split almost evenly between elementary and secondary students. Officials said a few families who filled out the virtual program registration are not enrolled in the school district as a whole, and they must do so as soon as possible. That is a separate form from the virtual registration and is still required.

That leaves about 3,500 students who will be attending school in person. As previously announced, non-virtual students in kindergarten through fifth grade will go to school every day. Meanwhile, throughout Phase Two of Louisiana’s reopening plan, those in grades six through 12 will be on an “AB” schedule, in which two groups will alternate between in-person and virtual instruction every other day.

The nature of virtual

Much of Tuesday’s “town hall” was devoted to informing parents and students about what the virtual program is and what it isn’t.

“Virtual is not easier — it’s just more convenient if you choose to go that route,” Milstead said. “Virtual is designed for you to be taught the same thing as if you were in the schools. Grades and testing will be administered through the program just like normal. Let’s make sure that we don’t look at the virtual program as an easy route.”

The “A” group of grade six through 12 in-person learners will start school on Aug. 19, as will all in-person students in first through fifth grade. Then the virtual program will begin on Aug. 20, when the “B” group goes to school for the first time. And finally, boys in pre-K and kindergarten who will go to school in person will do so on Aug. 20, with the girls going on Aug. 21 before all students go together the following Monday.

Virtual lessons for grades six through 12 will primarily be slideshows with pre-recorded teacher videos embedded in them, rather than live teaching.

“Teachers will be videoing lessons, but it will be on the computer, and you’ll just see the teachers — no students in the classroom will be shown,” Secondary Supervisor Ricky Durrett said. “No classroom cameras are in there to video students.”

Online work for these grades will largely be at the students’ own pace, but they will be required to sign in daily and complete the same assignments as in-person learners.

Virtual lessons for elementary students will put a greater emphasis on live interactions with teachers when possible.

“We think that’s a really important part of the virtual day,” Elementary Supervisor Lisa Mangum said. “I know parents are juggling jobs and taking care of children, but I encourage you to make that a priority.”

Teachers will record themselves during these live lessons so that students who can’t access them at the time will be able to watch them later.

Officials said they do not anticipate the state Board of Elementary and Secondary education will waive the requirements for student instructional minutes this school year, as it did when the coronavirus outbreak forced schools to close in the spring. Schools will quantify virtual students’ instructional minutes based on their signing in and completing daily assignments.

Students will not be able to switch between the in-person and virtual programs during the first nine-week grading period, unless illness demands that a student remain home.

“We ask that you commit to the nine-week enrollment,” Communications Coordinator Brandon Sutherland said. “After that first nine weeks, you can enroll back into the inclass learning if you so choose.”

Waiting for devices

Using federal CARES Act funds, the district has ordered Chromebooks for all students in grades three through 12 and touch-screen devices for Pre-K through second grade for use in on-campus and virtual learning. However, those devices will not arrive by the time school starts. In fact, Sutherland said Wednesday that the district has received an update that the touchscreen devices may not arrive until mid-October.

During the “town hall,” Assistant Superintendent Lisa Bastion said some 68% of the students who signed up for the virtual program indicated in their forms that they have their own devices at home they can use until the ones the district has ordered come in.

“During the prep days (before school starts), we will issue some used devices that we already have to some of you until the new ones come in,” Bastion said. “We want to prioritize those who said they don’t have any devices at home.”

Prep days will be held on Aug. 13-14 and 17-18. Each school will notify parents which date and time they should come to meet the teachers and fill out paperwork, including the release forms for the devices. Students who need a used Chromebook until the new ones come in will be issued one then.

However, the district does not have any used touch-screen devices to issue to kindergarten through second grade students until the new ones arrive. Officials said that means virtual learners in those grades who do not have their own devices will likely have to start the school year by picking up paper packets to complete at home.

Those in all grades who have their own devices will still be issued new ones once they arrive, but they may continue to use their own to access virtual lessons if they prefer.


Bastion said students who are fully virtual this school year may pick up meals provided by the school district each day, but they must first sign up to do so. Those sign-ups will be available on the prep days before school begins. Pickup locations are still to be determined. Schools will not be able to deliver meals to homes.

Meanwhile, students on the “AB” schedule during Phase Two may sign up to bring home an extra meal on the bus each afternoon when they go to school in person to cover for the days at home.

Special education and mental health

Special Education Supervisor Lisa Wilmore and Pupil Appraisal Coordinator Becky Stutzman were also part of the “town hall” this time around to address special education and mental health questions.

Wilmore said the district will soon be convening teams to look over each special education student’s Individualized Education Program and “determine what goals, accommodations, and services can be implemented.” She said some IEP’s will have to be altered on a case-by-case basis to fit this year’s reopening situation.

“Special education teachers will be a part of Google Meet sessions for virtual and hybrid students to follow up on lessons and work with students to make sure they meet their IEP goals,” Wilmore said. “That will include small groups and 1-on-1 time as needed.”

She said students with significant disabilities will have the opportunity to come to school on campus every day if they so choose, even those who would otherwise be on the “AB” schedule.

Stutzman said the district has put together a “universal screener” system to screen every student for ongoing or developing mental health struggles in the face of the pandemic situation.

“We realize we’re going to have students who didn’t struggle with anxiety or being scared at school, but now they might, because there’s a whole different set of circumstances,” she said. “We will ensure parents know about the screener first. We want to figure out what’s going on with our kids.”

Other topics

Durrett said athletes who are participating in the virtual program may still participate in athletic activity to the extent that those sports are allowed to reopen in each phase. They will do so after school hours.

Sutherland said the district does not currently anticipate having to extend its school year, which is slated to end on May 25, 2021, unless there is a school closure at some point.

Parents and community members may continue to ask questions about the return to school by emailing