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Aiming to restore some face-to-face instruction while limiting the spread of the coronavirus, the Zachary Community School Board decided Thursday that all 5,600 of the district’s students will begin the new academic year alternating days of in-person and online classes.

The first day of school also is being pushed back from Aug. 6 to Aug. 10, giving staff a few extra days to prepare for what will be a year unlike any other.

The board signed off on the measure at a special meeting Thursday evening.

Superintendent Scott Devillier pointed out that the plan could change before school begins as government agencies provide additional guidance.

“Decisions we may make tonight may change next Tuesday,” he said.

Officials will reevaluate the situation around Labor Day.

If Louisiana is still in Phase 2 at that time, the hybrid plan will remain in place for all grades. In Phase 3, all students will resume traditional daily, in-person classes.

All schools will close and revert to online-only instruction in the event the state regresses to Phase 1.

Under the hybrid model approved Thursday, students will be split into A and B groups that come to school campuses on Mondays and Wednesdays versus Tuesdays and Thursdays, respectively. All students will work online on Fridays.

School leaders are working to schedule siblings to be at school and at home on the same days, said human resources director Yolanda Williams.

She said the district decided on the A-day/B-day schedule after reviewing options adopted by other school systems, such as having one group come early in the week and the other come at the end of the week, with the buildings closed on Wednesdays for cleaning.

“I did not want kids seeing a teacher on Monday and Tuesday and then not seeing the teacher again until next Monday. That would be too long,” Williams said, adding that deep cleaning will occur daily in Zachary schools.

A few parents and teachers expressed concerns about the plan. DeAnna Okert, a fourth-grade teacher at Zachary Elementary School, noted that most people wouldn’t be comfortable going anywhere with hundreds of people right now.

“We must not jump all in and regret it at a later date,” Okert said.

Board member Brandy Westmoreland wanted elementary students to begin the year going to school five days a week. She said she understands the need for virus-related safety measures, but also has concerns for children who have unstable home environments and for parents who need to go to work.

No one seconded Westmoreland’s motion, causing it to die. The hybrid plan was then approved unanimously.

With online learning platforms figuring heavily in the curriculum, the district has ordered another 4,000 laptops for students to use, Williams said. That’s in addition to 1,500 that were bought and distributed in the spring.

The district will offer a 100% virtual curriculum to students unable to come to school. An application for the new program will be available on the school district’s website until July 16. About 400 students have already signed up, Williams said.

Some of the other changes coming this year include a recommendation that students in third grade and up wear masks, and temperature checks on all children using the 600-plus thermometers the district has purchased, Devillier said. And buses will run at a slightly reduced capacity with all the windows down, he said, given concerns that air conditioners can circulate the virus.

“Our kids are going to sweat. They’re going to be hot. … You’re probably going to get some calls,” Devillier told the board. He added that some parents may end up opting to drive their children to school, adding to already-long carpool lines.