The Tangipahoa Parish school district is planning to reopen next month with kindergarten through sixth graders physically in classrooms and the remaining students working fully virtually at home.

In an address to the school board Tuesday night, Superintendent Melissa Stilley outlined the district’s plan, which assumes Louisiana is still in Phase 2 of reopening its economy when school starts Aug. 12.

While in schools, students and staff will wash their hands every two hours, wear face masks in school, and get their temperatures checked. Teachers will report early to make sure kids are getting from the bus to the classroom in the right way.

“We’re in a pandemic, this is not a normal situation, especially in Phase 2 and I think we’re all going to have to chip in and try to get through this,” she told the board.

The most critical issue — and the one dictating the scheduling — is the restriction on transportation. If school resumes under Phase 2, school buses can only hold 50% capacity.

In a district of 20,000 students where an estimated 18,000 take the bus, Stilley said that’s a huge barrier to having kids in classrooms.

“We feel strongly that we need our littlest children in the buildings every day and that would be our Pre-K through 6th grade children who really should not be left at home alone at all,” Stilley said. “You have to consider our economy. Parents are trying to go back to work, so if we were to do virtual or even a model where students came to school twice a week, parents would be scrambling to find a babysitter for their children on the other days.”

Tangipahoa Parish schools recently announced the option of full virtual or blended model learning that would be implemented regardless of the coronavirus. That is still in effect, meaning that families with younger kids do have the option of virtual learning — but, under Phase 2, older students will need to stay in the virtual model.

Having grades 7 through 12 fully online will free up bus space to fit more elementary students in to go to school physically.

The students and teachers in school buildings will stay with their cohort of 25 people or fewer throughout the day, meaning they won't interact with wider groups during meals or on the playground. Frequently touched surfaces will be wiped clean often and masks will be worn as much as possible for students older than third grade.

There will be benchmark testing of students in each grade level to see how the end of the 2019-2020 year’s disruption and virtual model impacted learning.

Should the state revert back to Phase 1, all grades will be fully virtual. If it progresses to Phase 3, Pre-K through 8th grade will be traditional and grades 9 through 12 will be on a blended model where students rotate on an A/B schedule.

Stilley said officials are pushing for as many parents as possible to transport their kids to school in private vehicles. She said plans will be reassessed after Labor Day, when officials have a better idea of what impact the changes have had on bus loads.

School leaders plan to release a detailed booklet to parents sometime this week with a breakdown of the plans and procedures for each model.


Email Emma Kennedy at ekennedy@theadvocate.com.