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Livingston Parish's youngest students will return to school Aug. 7, but older students will attend school on alternating schedules as the district works to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a district reopening plan released late Thursday, Livingston Parish Public Schools plans to align with the state's reopening guidelines. If Louisiana stays in Phase 2 reopening as expected, Livingston Parish students will go back to school for the 2020-21 year in the hybrid model.

Students in pre-K to 2nd grade, as well as students needing special assistance, would attend traditional school five days per week at their home campus. 

Older students will be on an assigned schedule and get a blend of face-to-face instruction in school and virtual learning.

Students will be divided into either an A or B group and will attend either Monday, Wednesday and every other Friday, or Tuesday, Thursday and every other Friday.

Should the state revert to Phase 1 or advance to Phase 3, Livingston school officials will follow different guidelines similar to those they'd outlined as possibilities in early July.

Like many other districts, Livingston Parish created a committee of leaders to mull over the options and develop plans for how to continue school should the pandemic carry on into the 2020-21 school year. 

The plans ranged from full virtual to all students returning to classrooms under social distancing guidelines. 

Families and educators preferred the option where kids would be physically in classrooms, officials had said in the early July release.

Some of the additional restrictions under the Phase 2 reopening plan are that no more than 25 people, including teachers and staff members, will be allowed in a classroom; students will receive hand sanitizer throughout the day, and temperatures will be checked every day.

Locker rooms will be closed, and contact sports, band and music will be canceled. Students will pick up lunch in the cafeterias in groups of no larger than 25 students.

Regular attendance will be required in all phases and teachers will maintain attendance records. Students learning remotely will be required to log in to their digital platforms to complete daily assignments.

“Our three-phase plan allows our district to be flexible, yet efficient, in adhering to the state’s guidelines for reopening schools,” Superintendent Joe Murphy said in a statement Thursday.

“We believe these plans are the most advantageous for all our students. It is our intent to maximize face-to-face instruction as much as possible, while remaining within the mandated guidelines we have been given.”

Livingston Parish's announcement comes after the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved the minimum safety standards for reopening public schools.

The BESE standards say all adults and students in grades 3 through 12 must wear a face mask covering "to the greatest extent possible and practical within the local community context".

A BESE board member who lives in Baton Rouge, Belinda Davis, specifically mentioned Livingston Parish in her address about the new guidelines, saying leaders have shown little enthusiasm for the statewide mask order which could create danger for children and adults in Livingston Parish schools.

"My concern is that is giving them an enormous loophole. Is that going to give them an out?" Davis said at Tuesday's BESE meeting. She was worried how Livingston Parish school leaders would interpret the loosely worded mask recommendations.

Livingston Parish Public Schools announced last week it would launch a full-time virtual school this fall for students in grades 6-12 who are well-suited for online instruction or who may find it a better alternative to home school, charter or private school formats.

The district began accepting applications for that school July 7. In a news release on its launch, Assistant Superintendent Jody Purvis said the district had been researching a virtual school option for years, and it's not intended as an alternative COVID-19 guidelines.

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