ST. FRANCISVILLE — School’s out for summer, but West Feliciana school officials are making plans for a return to teaching in an educational environment altered by the coronavirus pandemic, the School Board learned June 16.
Schools Superintendent Hollis Milton and several supervisors outlined plans for resuming classes, which were interrupted by the statewide closure of schools in March.
Rather than waiting on state officials’ guidance on what will be required to resume classes, the West Feliciana team is working on plans for three scenarios:
- A return to face-to-face classroom teaching, perhaps with modifications in classroom structure and pupil-to-teacher interactions to reduce the spread of the virus.
- A total program of online instruction, if schools are not allowed to reopen.
- A hybrid program, with some classroom instruction supplemented by distance learning.
Milton said some guidance from the state may come as early as June 22.
Regardless of the direction the school system is forced to take, special tutoring programs will be implemented to help students who may have fallen behind as a result of the early closure of schools.
The board was told that each school will create a mental health response team to deal with psychological problems that some students may have because of possible radical changes in their lives.
The staff said a recent survey of parents indicated that 93 percent of those who responded favor a return to school in the fall, although the percentage of parents responding was not mentioned.
Federal funds are being used to purchase additional computer devices to ensure that students have them available if a spike in COVID 19 cases forces state officials to curtail school sessions, the board learned.
If a total return to distance learning is required, the school system will work with parents and students to increase access to online teaching programs in remote areas where internet access is spotty or not available. This could include setting up internet “hot spots” at churches or fire stations that students could use to get their lessons done.
Milton said approval of a half-cent sales tax renewal proposition on the special July 11 election ballot is a key factor in being able to respond to a complete return to distance learning.
“The effectiveness of educational system depends on how effective our online education is, if it comes to that,” Milton said.
The sales tax is dedicated to expenditures for technology and instruction in foreign languages for elementary students and generates about $1.2 million annually.
Early voting for the election will be from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 22 through July 4, except for the two Sundays. The state Legislature recently extended the early voting period by an extra week.
The requested renewal of a 3.75-mill property tax also is on the ballot. The special tax funds salary supplements for school employees.
Milton said a hybrid program, with some classroom instruction coupled with distance learning will be the most difficult to pull off.
The staff and school personnel would possibly have to develop schedules to split the students into two groups, with one attending morning classes and the other attending in the afternoon, with both receiving online instruction.
“There may be a fourth option that I’m not ready to talk about,” Milton said without elaborating.
Milton said the staff is focused on the first scenario, a return to school with some accommodations to decrease the likelihood of spreading the coronavirus.
“That’s where our mindset is. Where the concern comes in is when you get into flu season” and COVID 19 cases spike, Milton said.
In an unrelated personnel matter, Milton said he is appointing Beverly Grant as the school official who would be empowered to make decisions in his absence, or if he were to be incapacitated.
Grant is responsible for personnel duties with the school system.
Milton also said the board may want to consider at some point creating the post of assistant superintendent.