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Many families plan to stay home as schools plan for Phase Two, Phase Three

Thursday, July 2, 2020
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As new cases of the novel coronavirus continue to rise in Louisiana, almost one in four families in the Lincoln Parish School District say they do not plan to send their students back to school when the academic year begins next month.

That’s according to a survey sent out last week by the school district, polling parents on their comfort level with children attending school in person, as well as riding the bus to school.

So far, 24.3% of families say they prefer to keep their children home and continue participating in distance learning.

More than 2,300 total responses have been received so far — an estimated 65-75% of the total student population.

Superintendent Mike Milstead said that response works fine for the district, as it is already planning to incorporate a hybrid in-person/online teaching style when school resumes on Aug. 14.

“We know some parents will choose to keep their children home all day, and that’s certainly fine,” he said. “But some parents just can’t do that, and we’re going to do everything we can at school to make it possible for students to get the resources they need like any other day.”

That means following the guidelines passed down by new State Education Superintendent Cade Brumley last week, which make recommendations for face covering, social distancing, sanitization and other policies for local school districts.

At school

One of those recommended policies is the requirement of face masks for all students third grade and up while in a school building or bus.

Milstead said Lincoln Parish schools will adopt this policy, but will likely not enforce it with disciplinary action.

“We know that children will occasionally take (the masks) off, and we’re not going to go into hysterics when that happens,” he said. “We’re not going to be the mask police to an extent that causes us a lot of discipline problems.”

Other policies depend on which phase of economic reopening under will be in effect in Louisiana when school resumes. In Phase Two, which was recently extended until July 24, the maximum group size in schools would be 25. In Phase Three, it would rise to 50.

“Phase Three should be fine for us,” Milstead said.

Most classes in the parish are already under 25 people, save a few at Ruston High School that would have to be reworked if Phase Two is still in effect. Contact sports are also out until Phase Three.

Milstead said six-feet social distancing would be possible in most areas, and in areas like hallways where it may not be feasible, the time spent close to other students would be limited to less than 15 minutes.

The Louisiana Department of Health doesn’t define “close contact” for COVID-19 purposes until at least 15 minutes in close proximity have elapsed.

At home

Meanwhile, those families who keep their children at home will have access to both live and on-demand versions of class instruction.

“The goal is to give parents and students the option of tuning in live to the lesson as it’s taught at school, but also we will record some of the lessons so if they wanted to watch it later in the day, that would be fine as well,” Milstead said.

This hybrid style is being accomplished partly through new technology purchased with federal funding.

However, one must have a reliable internet connection to access these distance learning options, a luxury that not all Lincoln Parish families have. Milstead said based on another survey, he expects some 65-70% of homes have internet capabilities as of now.

The district hopes to increase that number by supplying homes with hotspot-generating devices that can greatly boost a cellular company’s network signal. The district purchased 500 of these devices for families to check out, but if some rural areas have no network access at all, it may not help them.

“You’ve still got to have a signal to enhance,” he said. “We want people who have responded to our survey that they do not have a good signal to come in before school starts, check a hotspot out and see what it does for them. That’s part of what we want to do in July.”

Contingency plans

More extreme changes to the school day, such as platooning students or alternating days in which they attend, are still on the table but only in dire circumstances, Milstead said.

“None of us really like that idea,” he said. “If a parent needs the children at school so they can work, they don’t need them back home every other day. We hope the things we plan to put in place are going to be effective for us.”

If a student tests positive for COVID-19, the state guidelines say that “does not necessarily warrant classroom or school closure.” Instead, the child will not attend school until deemed non-infectious by a doctor, and the class that student attended will isolate from the rest of the school but continue to hold lessons.

If the health situation across the state should decline to the extent that Louisiana is ordered back into Phase One, Milstead said the requirements would likely be too restrictive to keep the schools open.

“Phase One is basically a shutdown,” he said. “It’s not alternating days, you’re just staying home. That’s how we’re looking at it.”

But if things continue to move forward rather than backward, he said parish schools should be able to continue as planned.

“We’re guardedly optimistic,” Milstead said.