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Schools release virus data, talk sub shortage

Saturday, November 7, 2020
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According to the latest figures released by the Lincoln Parish School District, a total of 115 students have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the school year almost three months ago.

That’s about 2% of the district’s roughly 5,600 enrollment. But that count is cumulative from the first day of school on Aug. 19 and does not represent active cases. The total is up just eight from the last count on Oct. 27 and up 14 from Oct. 20.

“We feel good about that number,” Assistant Superintendent Lisa Bastion said. “So far we’re doing pretty well.”

The most cases, 48, have been found at Ruston High School, which is expected because RHS has by far the most total students at roughly 1,300. Every school in the district has had at least one.

In its last internal snapshot of novel coronavirus numbers on Wednesday, the district reported that 91 students across the parish were at home that day in either isolation or quarantine.

Isolation means staying home because one has contracted the virus, and quarantine means staying home because one has been deemed a close contact of someone else who contracted the virus.

Bastion said those students who are in quarantine were not necessarily exposed at school — they could have been exposed to a family member or friend with the virus elsewhere.

Meanwhile, a total of 50 school board employees have also tested positive since Aug. 19. That includes 22 teachers and two school administrators over that span.

Bastion said while the cases among teachers have been too spread out over time to impact instruction significantly on their own, they do contribute to perhaps the most difficult part of the pandemic teaching world: a shortage of substitute teachers.

“We trained close to 100 subs before school began, but we also have less than 30 who are actually taking positions,” she said. “So there’s a big population of substitute teachers who are not willing to work yet.”

She said some schools are at times having to cover classes with school administrators or move teachers’ planning periods around to cover for other teachers — not just when a teacher contracts COVID, but any time a handful are out on the same day for any number of reasons.

“That began when the A/B schedule went away,” she said.

For the first nine weeks of the school year, students in grades 7-12 who were not enrolled in the district’s full virtual program went to school in person every other day and learned online in between.

But since Oct. 19, with the start of the new grading period, all schools have returned to in-person instruction for all students every day, except those who remained fully virtual.

That affects schools’ ability to substitute for absent teachers because during the A/B schedule system, full-time teachers were able to cover for one another on days when they didn’t have any in-person classes.

“But now that everyone is back in school, that’s no longer the case,” Bastion said.

Returning to in-person classes every day is in accordance with Phase 3 of the state education department’s COVID-19 plan, which mirrors the state’s phased economic reopening. Louisiana entered Phase 3 on Sept. 11, and Lincoln Parish chose to stick with the A/B schedule until the end of the first nineweek period before switching.

Bastion said students, employees and families continue to be cooperative with the schools’ contact tracing efforts, and schools have found that most of the spread among students has come from weekend social activity.

“We’re seeing that things are happening outside of school on the weekends,” Bastion said. “We’re seeing some cases rise based on that. But as far as in the school, we do not feel like it’s spreading inside. The kids who are getting it have contacts outside of school.”