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Students board the school bus for the last time for a month because of K-12 school closings until April 13 at the BRCVPA School Friday March 13, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La.

The leader of Catholic schools in Baton Rouge on Thursday made a forceful argument for parochial schools reopening next month and offering at least some in-person instruction despite concerns about the novel coronavirus.

“It would be so easy to let this pass and say, ‘The (vaccine) is coming and we’ll just wait,’" said Superintendent Melanie Palmisano. “That child will have lost an important year of their life and their educational development and formation.”

Palmisano made her comments in a 14-minute video interview with Dan Borné, communications secretary for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, released Thursday.

Amid a nationwide resurgence in coronavirus cases, public schools in East Baton Rouge and Orleans parishes have delayed in-person instruction until after Labor Day. Eleven of the 15 largest school districts in the country have opted to start the 2020-21 school year with remote learning only, according to Education Week.

Palmisano, who took over her current job in 2008, oversees 31 Catholic schools across eight parishes. Palmisano said that principals of all those schools met in late May and early June to plan for the 2020-21 school year.

“They all felt like if it wasn’t illegal, we were going back to school,” she said.



In the interview, Palmisano answered questions about the diocese’s reopening plan, which was released July 22 and includes a number of safety measures that schools will be taking.

In developing the plan, the diocese relied on several reopening guides, including one developed by Loyola University in Chicago. Also, all diocesan schools were visited by pediatricians from Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.

Many decisions were left to each school, Palmisano said.

“We decided that one size fits none,” she said. “So each principal put together a team at his or her school and they decided what they needed to do and put in place.”

For parents who are uneasy with sending their children back to school, Catholic schools will offer online learning, but only a case-by-case basis.


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