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Reopening phase could affect school day

Sunday, June 28, 2020
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Lincoln Parish School Superintendent Mike Milstead said Friday he hopes Louisiana has reached Phase Three of economic reopening by the time school begins in August.

The reason: A new set of state Department of Education guidelines that tie school reopening to similar criteria as the economic reopening, limit the number of students allowed on a school bus in earlier phases of the plan.

And if that happens, local school decisionmakers could be faced with reconfiguring the look of the school day. Students are scheduled to report for their first day of the 2020-2021 year on Aug. 14.

State Education Superintendent Cade Brumley released a 20-page plan Thursday on how schools will operate when they reopen in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The plan suggests face coverings for adults and students from third grade up, addresses social distancing, group size, what to do if a student or staff member is diagnosed with COVID-19, cleaning and hand washing, and transportation.

Basically, restrictions on schools are lessened as each phase is met, although the DOE’s plan also includes a retightening, should the public health situation decline.

“This is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” Brumley said in a message introducing the guidelines. “We know there are vast differences between schools, systems, and communities across the state. It’s our responsibility to develop guidance in conjunction with public health officials, then allow local leadership to make decisions based on the unique needs in their community."

Louisiana is in Phase Two of the economic process until at least July 24.

“That does cause us some concern, mainly because of the limitations on transportation,” Milstead said.

Under the school reopening Phase Two, school buses are allowed only 50% capacity. If Phase Two is still in effect in August, Milstead said the local school system would be forced to double the number of bus routes to accommodate students.

That becomes both a financial and time issue, Milstead said.

Phase Three reopening allows 75% occupancy on buses.

“That’s about what we run anyway,” Milstead said.

The school system is surveying parents and so far has seen a “diminished number” who are willing to allow their children to ride the bus in the coming year, Milstead said.