desk stock file photo school

During a tour of the West Jefferson High School with coronavirus precautions it can be seen that each desk in the classroom has a grey or red sticker on the top corner in Harvey, La. Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. Each period, students will be asked to alternate their use of desks and to clean them off after each class. The school is scheduled to open on August 26. (Photo by Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

With coronavirus cases at schools continuing to rise, more Baton Rouge area schools are going all-virtual or closing early this week to try to arrest the spread of the virus before Thanksgiving break next week.

Here are the latest schools making changes:

  • Baker High School closed its doors and has been 100% virtual this whole week.
  • Park Ridge Academic Magnet School, also in Baker, shifted to all virtual for Thursday and Friday.
  • Forest Heights Academy of Excellence in Baton Rouge shifted to all virtual Wednesday through Friday.
  • J.K Haynes Charter School in Baton Rouge shifted to all virtual Wednesday through Friday.
  • Inspire Charter Academy in Baton Rouge shifted to all virtual Wednesday and will continue for the rest of the fall semester. It plans to resume in-person instruction in January.
  • St. Jude Catholic School in Baton Rouge closed Thursday and Friday, after a "number" of administrators and one teacher, but no students, tested positive for the coronavirus or are in quarantine, a spokesman said Thursday.
  • Tangipahoa Parish schools are going all virtual on Friday, which the district announced Monday.
  • West Baton Rouge Parish schools will be closed Friday, a day earlier than planned. The school district announced this change Wednesday night.
  • IDEA Bridge and IDEA Innovation, both charter schools in Baton Rouge, are shifting to an all virtual Friday.

Several other locals school announced last week that they were shifting to 100% virtual in the final days before Thanksgiving break. These include Mentorship Academy in Baton Rouge, Park Elementary in Baton Rouge, Zachary High School in Zachary and all three public schools in St. Helena Parish.

In first, Baton Rouge Catholic school closed for two days because of coronavirus

Similar to the state as a whole, cases of the coronavirus in K-12 schools have continued to grow this school year. According to the most recent statewide report, released Wednesday, 877 cases were reported last week, 122 more than the previous week. It's the most in one week since the state began tracking this issue in early September.

The report says 3,524 staff and students have tested positive for the virus.

East Baton Rouge Parish schools had two schools close early for Thanksgiving, but the district announced Thursday afternoon that it plans to return to in-person instruction on Monday, Nov. 30, after the break, dispelling rumors that it planned to shift to 100% virtual.

"We are committing to remaining open as a school district for face-to-face learning unless expert data analysis or official guidance determines otherwise," the announcement said.

District spokeswoman Taylor Gast acknowledged that schools are taking precautionary steps, including sending home laptops and tablets during the break, just in case things change.

St. Jude students will have to make up their lost days during Mardi Gras break, said Diocese of Baton Rouge spokesperson Dan Borné.

Overall the diocese reports that less than 1% of its 14,107 students and about about 3.4% of the staff have contracted the virus this school year through Nov. 15. Only 2.5% of parochial students are relying on virtual learning.

"Catholic high schools have experienced more infection than elementary schools, especially following LHSAA's resuming of sports," Melanie Palmisano, superintendent of schools for the diocese, said in a statement, referring to Louisiana High School Athletic Association.

West Baton Rouge Parish decided to close early because it has about 50 out out of 650 employees currently quarantining — as are about 300 of the district's nearly 4,000 students, said Superintendent Wes Watts.

Some of those staff quarantining were exposed to someone positive outside school or are staying home while their young children quarantine, Watts explained. The number of teachers out has forced their colleagues to cover their classes.

Breaking for Thanksgiving early should give employees a break and let quarantines run their course, Watts said.

“We said all year we wanted to be flexible and make moves that are good for our employees,” Watts said.

The district has reported to the state only a handful of COVID cases among students and staff so far this year. Watts said none of the 300 students quarantined at present have gotten sick and so far contact tracing has shown no spread of the virus among students in school.

West Baton Rouge, home to about 25,000 residents, has seen a rise in case counts in recent weeks as well as reporting some of the highest one-day totals of new cases, according to state figures.

Staff writers Youssef Rddad and Will Sentell contributed to this story.


Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.