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Students returned to classrooms in Pointe Coupee Parish this week for the first time since March, when schools were ordered to shut down campuses due to the coronavirus.

As teachers greeted their mask-clad students, they were also met with the logistics of going back to school in an era of social distancing. Floor tape marked hallways to keep students apart and temperature check kiosks stood at school entrances.

Superintendent Kim Canezaro said preparations for the school year began shortly after Gov. John Bel Edwards ended in-person instruction across Louisiana at the onset of the state's coronavirus outbreak this spring.

“It was a great start, real smooth and real quiet,” she said after visiting each school on Tuesday.

While she said it was nice to see kids back, it was hard for some teachers to navigate students’ excitement to see them.

“Sometimes they want a hug,” Canezaro said.

Part of the quiet start was due to the large number of students who chose to take all their classes online, an option parents were given if they were uncomfortable with sending their kids to school buildings.

More than a thousand students, or 52% of the student body, opted to take classes online instead of in-person instruction. Since so many people opted to take classes online, it gave public schools the proper space to hold classes five days per week.

Students will have to follow a number of rules set out by the state. They include mandatory face-coverings for 3-12 graders, and the school is encouraging younger students to do so as well.

Catholic-Pointe Coupee and False River Academy also started its school year Monday and are also required to follow similar rules.

Canezaro said her schools plan to give students time to “take a break” from mask-wearing by giving them some time outside at a distance from each other, and they won’t be required to wear them during physical education classes.

Teachers will also have options to hold classes outside. 

“Health and safety dominate the conversation right now,” Canezaro said. “We want to keep our children and employees safe."

Finding substitute teachers can sometimes be a challenge for the rural district if many teachers have to stay home sick, Canezaro said. The district is smaller than some of its neighbors.

Mirroring a recent rise in coronavirus statewide, Pointe Coupee has experienced a rise in infections since the state began loosening restrictions, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. The latest figures show the parish has reported nearly 800 cases since the outbreak began.

Though the health department has deemed all 64 parishes as having “high” per capita infection rates, Pointe Coupee Schools were spared from having to delay start dates like other districts.

East Baton Rouge Parish delayed in-person instruction until after Labor Day for public schools. Iberville Parish Public Schools also tapped the brakes on starting school this week, delaying until Aug. 17 after its superintendent said schools needed an extra week to prepare.


Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com, and follow him on Twitter @youssefrddad