Temperature checks and mask-clad students marked the beginning of the school year Monday as West Baton Rouge Parish schools reopened to students for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown in March.

Like other school districts in the capital region, West Baton Rouge schools will have students return in stepped phases. The current phase will see pre-kindergarten to sixth-grade students attend class in person, while half of the district’s older students leapfrog days they’re on campus or learning online.

“So far, so good,” Superintendent Wes Watts said a few hours after schools started Monday. “The biggest challenge is still just to get (students) to be mindful of social distancing.”

After students found their way to their classrooms, he said, they appeared to be taking the new realities and rules seriously.

Students are required to cover their faces while going between classes, though they're only strongly encouraged to do so while they're on school buses or sitting in classrooms. The school district will also increase its focus on sanitizing rooms and wiping down shared areas each time they’re used.

Body temperature checkpoints have been placed at all schools, and anyone with a temperature above 100.3 will be sent home. The Louisiana Department of Education and the Department of Health also laid out guidelines for students, teachers and staff who have been in direct contact with a person infected by the coronavirus. In those instances, they'll be asked to self-isolate for two weeks.

School leaders gave students the option to attend classes virtually if they or their parents were uncomfortable with in-person instruction.

Some 1,000 students, or a quarter of the district’s student body, opted for the virtual option, which will start next week, according to the school district.

The district previously expected about 10% of students would choose the digital option, but Watts speculates many more enrolled in virtual learning as coronavirus cases crept up the past few weeks.

Some high school students also began their school year at the newly built Brusly High School, which is part of a $90 million project to build new schools and renovate others.

Construction on the school’s main areas is complete, but crews are still wrapping up work on the athletic facilities.

Though the welcoming of half the student body to the new school was slightly overshadowed with logistics and safety measures, Watts said he was happy to see the students.

“We’re glad to have kids back because we can do more than with them than without them,” he said.

Meanwhile, some neighboring school districts have tapped the brakes on restarting in-person education.

Last week, Iberville Parish schools delayed bringing students back to campuses by a week after the district’s superintendent said he wanted more time for schools to prepare.

Similar to other school districts, Iberville had planned to have students split their time on campus with online instruction. Students, instead, will attend online classes until schools open on Aug. 17.

Students in East Baton Rouge Parish public schools will learn virtually until Labor Day, or possibly later, following concerns of rising cases in the parish.


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