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A container of disinfectant wipes stands on a counter just inside the front doors Friday, July 24, 2020, at Woodvale Elementary in Lafayette, La.

With the Lafayette Parish school system’s back-to-school plan finalized this week, parents have a more clear picture of what the school year will look like when their children return to classrooms in a handful of days.

The district’s COVID-19-focused, back-to-school plan, Learn Lafayette Reopening Plan 2021-2022, bears many similarities to the school system’s reopening plan last year. But there are a few key differences as students prepare to return to full-time, in-person classes from the jump this fall.

The plan was approved by the Lafayette Parish School Board with a few amendments in a 7-0 vote Wednesday. In a letter to families, schools Superintendent Irma Trosclair said the district will follow recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local public health leaders.

The plan comes with the caveat that changes are possible as COVID-19 conditions change.

“The plan is based on the best available information today, but as we learn more — or as local conditions change — we will be reviewing and updating our protocols as needed. LPSS’s Learn Lafayette plan will be constantly evaluated to adapt to the continuing trends of the COVID-19 virus,” Trosclair said in the prepared statement.

On Thursday, the first round of first through 12th grade students will return for their first day of classes. Students will be divided into A and B attendance groups for the first two days; students with odd home addresses will be in group A and attend Thursday, while students with even home addresses will be in group B and attend Friday. All students will resume classes on Aug. 16.

Prekindergarten and kindergarten students will follow a similar scheme but on different days. A-group students will report Aug. 16, and B group students will report on Aug. 17. All pre-K and kindergarten students will begin full attendance Aug. 18.

The school system and the state have put an emphasis on the importance of in-person teaching after initial LEAP 2025 results from this spring showed the rate of third to eighth grade students who scored mastery or higher on the English and math sections was 15% higher for students who attended in-person classes last year than for peers who received strictly virtual instruction.

Mitigation measures are key to keeping schools open, the superintendent stressed.

Any students or employees exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms must stay home, and any who test positive must follow CDC guidelines for isolation. The district will again use contact tracing to identify close contacts who will need to remain home, the plan said.

Mask wearing will be required for all pre-K through 12th grade students, staff and visitors, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated against COVID-19. The mask rules will remain in place at least through Sept. 1, when Gov. John Bel Edwards’ statewide mask mandate is set to expire. The governor has said the mandate may be extended.

Regardless of changing state and local rules around masks, mask wearing on school buses will be required throughout the year as part of an executive order from President Joe Biden.

Transportation guidance extends beyond mask wearing. Students must sanitize their hands after boarding the bus, sit according to a seating chart for contract tracing purposes and attempt to distance while waiting at bus stops. High traffic areas, like seats and handrails, should be cleaned at least twice a day, with the full bus undergoing disinfecting daily, the plan said.

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This year, students will not be temperature checked after arriving on campus or at intervals throughout the day. Temperature checks will be limited to nonessential visitors and nondistrict employees, who will also be asked to sanitize their hands upon entering campus.

Campus visitation will again be limited for the 2021-22 school year, the school system said. Schools are asked to limit nonessential visitors entering campus; essential visitors are considered professionals who conduct classroom observations or teacher evaluations, or who provide support services like mental health care and special education support.

Nonessential visitors must be masked on campus and are asked to make appointments when possible to limit crowding in the office and on campus, the reopening plan said.

The safety plan includes continued emphasis on frequent hand washing and sanitation. High-touch surfaces, like desks, light switches, bathroom fixtures, door handles and shared materials in spaces like labs and the library, will be cleaned and disinfected at least twice daily.

Students and staff should wash or sanitize their hands once they arrive at school, before and after eating, before and after using playground equipment or exercise equipment and before leaving school. Students should wash or sanitize their hands after changing classrooms, while teachers must wash or sanitize their hands when new students enter their classroom.

Students and staff must also wash their hands before and after on-campus events. The district plan recommends schools avoid activities that require congregating in large groups. For any necessary assemblies, the gathering should be limited to “maximum group size with appropriate physical distancing in place,” though hard number limits weren’t set.

Similar language was used to describe how many people should be gathered in a single room. To support distancing, teachers were advised to remove unused or unnecessary furniture from their classrooms.

To limit congregating at lunchtime, the district is again prioritizing eating lunch in classrooms over cafeterias when schools can. All students will be served breakfast and lunch for free through a pandemic-linked waiver program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The plan also included restrictions on school activities, like physical education classes, band activities and field trips.

For PE, locker rooms will be closed and students will not dress out, so PE uniforms won’t be required for middle and high school students. Any individual exercise equipment used for PE lessons will be sanitized at least twice a day, the plan said.

The Lafayette Parish School Board scrapped existing plans for band and vocal activities, replacing them with instructions to follow guidance from the National Federation of State High School Associations and the National Association for Music and Education when band or vocal activities are held inside. The change came after requests from parents and music educators for clear guidance and more opportunities for band and choir groups.

Similarly, sports teams will continue to follow recommendations laid out by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.

During the 2021-22 school year, field trips will continue to be limited and hinge on COVID-19 conditions locally and at the field trip site, namely transmission rates. Field trips won’t be approved when the COVID-19 transmission rate is high at the school or in the community. Any groups attending field trips must follow masking, transportation and group size and makeup guidance, the plan said.


Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com