Louisiana Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley laid out the framework on Thursday of what the state's public schools will have to do to safely remain open during the fall as the coronavirus pandemic persists in the state.
The 20-page document outlines the benchmarks each school will have to maintain in a three-phased reopening plan, and also includes details on what should happen if a student, teacher or faculty member at a school contracts COVID-19.
[RELATED: Click here to read more from Brumley.]
Here are some key takeaways from the the Department of Education's guidelines for schools reopening in the fall:
1. Masks are vital, and a big source of controversy
The department's guidelines say that students in the third grade and older, along with adults, should wear face masks "to the maximum extent possible." That includes wearing them in all areas of the school, including classrooms and during arrival, dismissal and any other transition within the school building.
With as much of a political flashpoint as wearing masks in public has been, reports say some parents have already said their children will not return to classrooms if face coverings are required.
While the language in the department's guidelines and recommendations point to the wearing of masks being vital to schools remaining open, a firm requirement for them to be worn is not made.
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2. Will distance learning be an option?
Parents wishing to withhold their children from returning to a traditional classroom will likely have that option.
Brumley told reporters that he is encouraging all district leaders to offer distance learning for families who opt out of returning to classrooms, and said those leaders "are working through the processes."
The state's recommendations has encouraged all school systems to have "an academic plan for high-quality curriculum, instruction, assessment and teacher professional development across grade levels and content areas" and should prep for at least three possible scenarios:
- Traditional: Instruction in a traditional school setting with mitigation efforts in place
- Hybrid: Instruction via a combination of face-to-face and virtual models
- Virtual: Instruction via a 100% virtual model with either synchronous and/or asynchronous learning
School systems will be able to decide the method for instruction across in each of the three phases of reopening. No matter the scenario used, the state says schools should include daily attendance for staff and students.
3. What's the difference between the three phases?
Much like the way Louisiana has used increased capacity across a phased reopening for businesses and services, the Department of Education is using a similar method in its three-phased plan.
Here's how each phase will differ:
- Phase 1: Classes will be broken into small groups of 10, including adults. Buses will run at 25% capacity with one passenger riding in each seat with every other seat empty. Members of the same household may sit in the same seat or adjacent seats.
- Phase 2: Classes will be broken into small groups of 25, including adults. Buses will take the number of seats and multiply by the percentage of the manufacturer's capacity to determine the maximum amount allowed on the bus.
- Phase 3: Classes will be broken into small groups of 50, including adults. Buses will take the number of seats and multiply by the percentage of the manufacturer's capacity to determine the maximum amount allowed on the bus.
In all three phases, groups will convene indoors in rooms enclosed by walls or partitions. Physical barriers will not be required outside, but groups will need to stay separated.
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4. Where do athletics and other extra curricular activities fit into the three phases?
In the state's recommendations, schools are to refrain from contact and high-risk sports in both Phase 1 and Phase 2. Those sports are allowed within defined groups in Phase 3.
Outside of this distinction, the guidelines say athletic activities are allowed to resume with the recommendations put forth in the LHSAA's Guidance for Opening Up High School Athletics and Activities memo.
Band and vocal music may resume in Phase 3 as well, with physical distance recommendations in effect.
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5. What schools should do when someone tests positive for coronavirus
The guidelines explicitly state that schools "should plan for and expect that some students will get COVID-19 during the school year," and that they will possibly expose other students and staff to it no matter how well preventative measures are taken.
With this in mind, the state said schools should follow these guidelines for when happens:
- Students who are sick should stay at home regardless of their illness, and those with COVID-19 are to remain isolated at home until they have recovered and are determined to no longer be infectious.
- Individuals who were in close contact with an infected student will be contacted as part of the Office of Public Health's contact tracing process.
- Close contacts will be asked to stay home and monitor symptoms for 14 days.
- Schools should ensure continuity of education for students and staff who are quarantined or isolated.
- Plans should be prepared for school closures between 3-5 days if the school environment is determined to be a source of ongoing COVID-19 spread.
You can read the state's full memo highlight guidelines by clicking the PDF below or on this link.