Students in East Baton Rouge Parish will return to school for orientation on Aug. 6 and Aug. 7, depending on the student, followed by two days a week of in-person instruction and three days of distance learning, under a blueprint revealed Thursday at the school board meeting.

Also, the school system, the second largest traditional school district in the state with more than 41,000 students, is offering families the option of full virtual education.

The decision to restrict daily face-to-face instruction at the start of the 2020-21 school year comes as the state grapples with a resurgence of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations after entering Phase 2 of reopening in June.

The school reopening blueprint — which the school district posted on its home page — is structured to change based on the latest COVID-19 health data and the state’s phase of reopening.

Under the state's current Phase 2 restrictions, students will attend school in-person on staggered days based on the first letter of their last name, with A-K students attending Monday and Tuesday and L-Z students attending Thursday and Friday. The schools will be deep cleaned weekly on Wednesdays.

A full day of in-person orientation is scheduled on Aug. 6 for the A-K students and on Aug. 7 for L-Z students.

If the state returns to Phase 1 reopening with rigid restrictions, all students will transition to a 100% virtual education. If the state progresses to Phase 3 reopening with looser restrictions, students will gradually resume face-to-face instruction.

As staffing and building capacity allow, in-person instruction is expected to expand over time, with priority given to students in pre-K through second grade. The learning model will be reevaluated every two weeks based on the latest health data, said Associate Superintendent Ben Necaise.

Students with disabilities will receive face-to-face instruction on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with virtual support on Wednesdays.

A number of school board members expressed concern at Thursday’s meeting about starting the school year with partial in-person instruction, suggesting the school district instead begin with 100% virtual education in August and reevaluate face-to-face instruction after Labor Day.

“I believe we’re jumping the gun with regard to the start date,” said board member Tramelle Howard.

Necaise noted that the blueprint is a “starting point” and “framework” that is subject to change as the school year approaches.

The announcement follows the approval Tuesday by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education of a set of minimum safety standards governing school bus passenger limits, indoor gatherings, daily hygiene and social distancing policies.

The BESE standards note that "all adults and students in grades 3 through 12 must wear a face mask covering to the greatest extent possible and practical within the local community context."

The rules from BESE limit indoor school gatherings to 25 people, including adults, as long as the state remains in Phase 2 for the reopening of the state's economy.

School buses are limited to 50% of capacity, and students should spread out "to the greatest extent possible."

Students are supposed to maintain 6 feet of distance from each other while in classrooms.

The reopening plan was one of two options outlined earlier this month by Superintendent Warren Drake in a message to families, receiving a mix of praise, criticism and confusion among parents and staff.

Students in Baton Rouge, like those across the country, spent the final months of the 2019-20 school year learning virtually. East Baton Rouge Parish, which has a sizable divide between students who have access to computers and those who don't, got off to a later start with virtual education than some other neighboring school districts. 

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