ST. FRANCISVILLE — Unlike in many Louisiana school districts, West Feliciana Parish students in elementary and middle school grades will attend classes five days a week, as long as the state remains in Phase 2 or 3 of its coronavirus reopening plan.
High school students will attend in-person classes four days a week and have “virtual Wednesdays” of online instruction.
The West Feliciana School Board spent several hours of a lengthy meeting July 21 meeting going over the detailed plan outlined by administrators, with several board members expressing their appreciation for the work that went into the document.
The meeting, which covered a wide range of topics, lasted three minutes shy of six hours.
On the same day of the board meeting, Gov. John Bel Edwards extended the Phase 2 reopening plan for the state’s economy until Aug. 7, citing the high number of hospitalizations for the coronavirus.
Parish schools will start the year with teachers reporting on Aug. 4 and students showing up for a half-day of orientation on Aug. 7.
Other school districts in the area are shooting for a mix of in-person attendance and online learning programs, while some plan for online programs for the near future.
“In no way are we trying to be very bold,” Superintendent Hollis Milton said of the plan to put children into the classroom as much as possible.
State guidelines require social distancing within classrooms and on school buses, which some districts find hard to meet because of fiscal and physical constraints, Milton said.
For instance, the state will not allow buses to exceed 50 percent of their capacity, a requirement many districts cannot meet, he said.
West Feliciana has enough school buses and drivers to meet that requirement, and the central location of all its schools allows bus routes to be modified to avoid lengthy bus rides and overcrowding, Milton said.
Parents can help in meeting the 50 percent capacity requirement by carpooling to the maximum extent possible.
West Feliciana also has a student-to-teacher ratio of about 20 to 1, while other area districts have ratios approaching 30 to 1, requiring hybrid schedules to get student numbers to an acceptable class size, he said.
The district also is allowing parents to opt for a total distance learning program if they are fearful of sending their children back to school under the current conditions.
Milton estimated that about 400 of the parish’s 2,400 students will be taking advantage of the distance learning, online model, which will free up additional space in the classrooms to help meet the state regulations for social distancing.
If the state should revert back to Phase 1 of the reopening plan, the parish would immediately go back to a virtual program of 100 percent online instruction.
In that event, each student who needs a computer will be issued one, and the staff is working to set up internet “hot spots” in areas of the parish where internet service is non-existent or spotty.
The plan calls for students to remain in “static groups,” such as a classroom unit, throughout the day, including trips to the cafeteria to pick up meals, physical education activities, recess and ancillary classes.
Milton said surveys and his talks with parents indicate that many are grateful that the school staff has developed detailed plans to bring back in-person classroom instruction under safe conditions.
Because many families are struggling economically the district plans to eliminate class fees for the entire year to the greatest extent possible, Milton said, explaining that he does not want parents to have to fork over money for fees and then see a state-mandated return to virtual instruction.
Students in grades 3-12 will be required to wear face coverings that do not have letters, writing or pictures on them. The district will provide each student with at least one mask.
Students will be required to use hand sanitizer when getting on and off buses and entering and leaving the classroom.
Teachers and students will have their temperatures taken shortly after arriving at school. Anyone with a temperate of 100.4 degrees will be sent home.
The plan also includes protocols that must be followed for students and staff who become ill or show symptoms of COVID-19.