The East Baton Rouge Parish school system may abandon plans to partially reopen schools on Aug. 6 that have been shuttered by the novel coronavirus since March and opt instead to continue distance education for at least another month.
“You’ll hear officially on Wednesday. Stress levels are so high and you’re asking. We’ll be virtual until at least Labor Day,” School Board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson wrote Monday night on her Facebook page.
Ware-Jackson said Tuesday that she deleted the post because it was "outside her lane," but said she didn't know why the district was waiting until Wednesday "with so many people asking for virtual."
Incoming Superintendent Leslie Brown called a virtual press conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday to explain what the school system will do. Brown, who officially takes over as superintendent on Aug. 3, has been talking this week with School Board members and others about how best to reopen schools.
A plan to have public school students in East Baton Rouge Parish return to classrooms in early August for two days of in-person instruction an…
A shift to virtual-only instruction would be a fast retreat from the reopening plan released Thursday. That plan called for a “hybrid” model where students receive in-person instruction two days and week and virtual learning the other three days.
Citing concerns about keeping staff and students safe, both of the major teacher unions in the school system — the local chapters of the Association of Educators and the Federation of Teachers — have scheduled a protest for 4 p.m. Wednesday in front of the School Board Office at 1050 S. Foster Drive.
The school system sent a survey earlier this month gauging whether employees would return to work, and more than 4,000 responded. All but a handful said they’d come back if there was virtual-only instruction. More than 5 percent, however, said they would retire, resign or take leave if the school system went with the hybrid approach.
Almost 14 percent said they would do the same if the district went with daily, in-person instruction.
Spokeswoman Taylor Gast said that after the reopening plan was released last week, the system got a lot of emails and messages from employees concerned about a hybrid reopening.
So, on Monday afternoon, the school system sent out a second survey on the same topic. The survey will conclude Tuesday or perhaps early Wednesday, Gast said.
Angela Reams-Brown, president of the parish Federation of Teachers, said that some of those who took the first survey assumed wrongly that hybrid instruction would not start right away, skewing the results.
“I think that teachers took the survey under the notion that August would be virtual,” Reams-Brown said.
Amid a nationwide resurgence in coronavirus cases, several large school districts have announced in recent days that they plan to stick with virtual instruction when the new school year begins. New Orleans public schools joined them Tuesday that it would be virtual-only until after Labor Day.
The planned protest Wednesday afternoon by teacher unions in Baton Rouge is a go no matter what the school system announces between now and then, organizers say.
“We will still be out Wednesday regardless,” said Anita Augustus, president of the parish Association of Educators.
Reams-Brown, with the Federation of Teachers, called Wednesday’s event a “silent protest” that will not feature speeches. Instead, those in attendance will hold signs for motorists passing by on South Foster Drive.
At least one other member of the School Board, Dadrius Lanus, has taken to Facebook as well, publicly urging people to attend the protest: “Come let your voices be heard!”
Both organizations say that they want to see coronavirus cases decline for at least 14 consecutive days before reopening, a key plank in school reopening guidelines issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control. Labor Day might yet prove too soon to reopen if that yardstick is used.
“If Labor Day comes and we’re still on a steady rise, Labor Day is not the ideal time for us to come back,” Reams-Brown said.