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Thanksgiving COVID ‘spike’ expected in schools

Thursday, December 3, 2020
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As Lincoln Parish public schools prepare to move grades 7-12 back to an alternating day schedule for a few weeks, school board members were informed Tuesday that the main difficulty the district faces in terms of COVID-19 Thanksgiving spread comes from its employee population rather than students.

“We’ve had an influx in adults,” Chief Academic Officer Lisa Bastion said.

From the week before schools’ Thanksgiving break until Tuesday, the district saw an additional 23 employees test positive for the novel coronavirus.

On Tuesday alone, 43 employees were out, either because they had COVID themselves or were in quarantine for being in close contact with someone who did.

“Most of these people are having to quarantine because they were exposed last week during Thanksgiving,” Bastion said. “We were expecting that.”

That’s why the school district decided to send its upper grades back into the A/B schedule they had used during the first nine weeks of the school year.

“We’ve been having tremendous problems with subs and covering classes,” Superintendent-elect Ricky Durrett said. “We do expect to see a bit of a spike from Thanksgiving in the days and weeks to come, so we’re trying to stay ahead of it and avoid having to shut down because we need subs.”

The A/B schedule splits students at Ruston Junior High School and the parish’s three high schools into two groups based on grade. Those two groups alternate each day between attending school in person and virtually from home.

Durrett said adopting this schedule will allow full-time teachers to cover for one another on the days during which they only have virtual classes. That would free up the district’s insufficient pool of substitutes to be used entirely on the elementary grades, which he said would fix the shortage at both levels.

Attending school every day is ideal, Durrett said, but the A/B schedule is the best option to avoid school closures.

“I’d rather be able to do this and keep everybody coming to school, at least every other day, than shut a school or a grade down and send a bunch of kids home,” he said.

The switch to A/B will begin Monday. The current plan is to allow every day attendance to resume on Jan. 18, since officials hope the number of employee absences will go back down to manageable levels after the holiday COVID exposure runs its course.

Durrett said if the district needed to extend the A/B schedule further, it would make a decision to do so by Jan. 11.

Meanwhile, Bastion said a little more than 3% of the district’s students have tested positive for COVID-19 cumulatively since the start of the school year in August, which she described as a “pretty good” rate.

The parish school board during Tuesday’s meeting also voted to extend its Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Emergency Family and Medical Leave policies, which are based on the acts of Congress of the same name.

Originally set to expire on Dec. 31, the policies essentially grant employees 10 days of paid sick leave specifically for quarantining or isolating because of COVID-19, as well as 12 weeks of leave if the employee must care for their children because their childcare provider has closed.

The policies are now extended through the end of the current public health emergency declaration or until a later date set by Congress, which Bastion said she expects to be declared soon.