desk stock file photo school

The cafeteria of West Jefferson High School is allowed to have 25 students at a time in the configuration seen during a tour showing coronavirus precautions of the campus in Harvey, La. Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. If a divider is installed in the cafeteria, 50 students will be allowed in the room at the same time. The school is scheduled to open on August 26. (Photo by Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Gov. John Bel Edwards’s decision Thursday to transition Louisiana to more flexible Phase 3 coronavirus restrictions is the signal that Baton Rouge area school leaders have been waiting for that will let them bring more children onto their campuses.

The news prompted a series of announcements.

Zachary declared its students will go to school five days a week starting Sept. 21. On that day, Zachary middle and high school students will shift from partial in-person to full-time in-person instruction, joining elementary school students who returned to school full time on Tuesday.

East Feliciana Parish schools announced they will allow elementary-age students to go school four days a week, instead of just two, starting on Sept. 21.

Starting Monday, Tangipahoa Parish seventh and eighth graders, who have been learning virtually, will get five days a week of in-person instruction. They will join students in pre-K to sixth grade who have been going to school full time for weeks.

Tangipahoa high schoolers, also learning virtually at present, will also come back to school at some point, but Superintendent Melissa Stilley first wants to see how well adding the middle schoolers to school buses goes before adding older kids.

Allowing school buses to increase their capacity from 50% to 75% is a big reason school officials can now consider bringing more students to school. Phase 3 will also allow as many 50 individuals in a room at a school, though schools will still be expected to enforce rules on taking temperatures, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.

School leaders in East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Livingston and West Baton Rouge parishes are waiting until Friday after Edwards signs on the dotted line before announcing their school plans.

“We just need those details,” West Baton Rouge superintendent Wes Watts said Thursday. “One can make a big difference.”

East Baton Rouge Parish, which has been virtual only so far this year, is bringing back elementary students starting Monday for twice-a-week in-person instruction, but officials have yet to say when middle and high schools students will return.

Both Iberville and West Baton Rouge parishes are already letting students up through sixth grade attend school in person daily, but they want to do the same for students in upper grades who so far have been going only part-time.

A deciding factor on setting a timetable for bringing older students back to school campuses will be ironing out bus schedules, Watts added.

Iberville Parish also plans to expand in-person instruction, first with seventh- and eighth-graders, but won't announce dates until it reviews the new guidelines.

A spokeswoman for Livingston Parish said the school district will announce its plans Friday as well. Livingston is doing full-time instruction through fifth grade and part-time in-person instruction in the upper grades.

Ascension Parish is waiting until late next week before it announces when it will bring back more students. In the meantime schools will continue as is, with primary students in classrooms full time, while students in middle school and high school come to school on an alternating schedule.

Students don’t necessarily have to return to school buildings if they don’t want to. The many students in the Capital region who have already opted for virtual-only instruction are likely to be able to stay at home, at least for a while longer. Both East Baton Rouge and East Feliciana parishes, however, want parents to fill out online forms first if they would like their children to continue learning from home.


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