For schoolchildren in the Baton Rouge area, daily in-person instruction is returning soon, thanks to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ on Friday officially moving Louisiana to Phase 3 in reopening the state’s economy that was shut down six months ago thanks to the novel coronavirus.
School districts in East Baton Rouge, Livingston, St. James and West Baton Rouge parishes on Friday all announced plans to transition to five-days-a-week daily instruction in all grades in the coming weeks. They join Zachary, which announced a similar transition on Thursday, hours after the governor first revealed his plans.
Other local school districts have announced dates to shift to daily instruction for elementary and middle school children, but are not yet saying when high school students will follow suit. And more districts are expected to announce their plans soon.
Prior to the governor’s move Friday, the only schools in the Capital region offering daily or almost daily instruction in all grades were public schools in West Feliciana Parish, a couple of charter schools as well as private and Catholic schools.
Livingston Parish is making the fastest transition to full-time instruction in every grade. Currently, only students in Pre-K to fifth grade are coming daily. Grades 6 to 12 will join them full-time starting Wednesday and continuing over four successive days, with seniors returning Sept. 21.
Students in Livingston’s upper grades have been coming to school only part of the week, spending the rest of the week learning at home — a “hybrid” approach that’s been common across Louisiana so far this school year.
Zachary, which has also been offering daily instruction only to students in elementary grades, plans to bring back its middle and high schoolers to daily, in-person instruction all at once starting Sept. 21.
West Baton Rouge is making its shift from hybrid to daily instruction on two days a week apart. On Sept 21, Caneview, Port Allen Middle and Port Allen High schools will return. Brusly Middle and Brusly High schools will join them on Sept 28 — the week delay is due to construction work still going on at both schools.
“We are excited to get more of our students back on campus together but we must remain diligent with safety procedures so we can keep them all on campus,” cautioned Wes Watts, superintendent of West Baton Rouge schools.
Other public schools also announced on Friday plans to return to daily instruction. LSU Lab School is making the shift Sept. 21. Slaughter Community Charter School is expanding from two days to four days a week of instruction starting the following day.
St. James Parish schools plan to transition all at once from hybrid to daily in-person instruction, but not until Oct. 14.
Superintendent Ed Cancienne said his staff needs time to pull off this shift.
“This will allow us time to prepare bus routes, new class schedules, (special education) accommodations, lunch schedules and much more,” Cancienne said.
East Baton Rouge schools, which have been operating 100% virtual since kids returned from summer break on Aug. 10, plan to transition to face-to-face instruction every day in every grade by Oct. 19, but will shift in phases.
On Monday, the school district will continue with previously announced plans to bring back elementary school children for twice-a-week in-person instruction. They will now upgrade to daily instruction for students in those grades starting Oct. 5.
Middle and high schools will make a similar return two weeks after the younger kids. On Sept. 28 they will return on a twice-a-week hybrid schedule and will transition to full time, in-person instruction by Oct. 19.
In a statement, Superintendent Leslie Brown said the continued decline in COVID-19 cases in Louisiana gives her confidence to make this shift.
“The declining trends, coupled with the governor’s announcement, indicate that a gradual return to in-person learning can be safe and successful for all,” Brown said.
Schools initially focused on younger children in reopening schools this year. Concerns about learning loss have been greatest in the lower grades and digital instruction is less effective and developed as children get younger.
Phase 2 made it hard for many schools to go beyond elementary grades. A big constraint was that school buses could be only half full. Phase 3 increases school bus capacity from 50% to 75%, making it easier for a faster reopening in the upper grades.
Students don’t have to return to school if they don’t want to. School districts across Louisiana have many children learning strictly from home and school officials say they plan to continue those services, though a few districts are asking parents to declare anew via surveys whether they still want 100% distance learning.