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East Baton Rouge Parish school superintendent finalist Leslie Brown of Fort Lauderdale speaks during a town hall for the two final candidates for EBR school superintendent, Wednesday, June 10, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. The finalists are Leslie Brown of Fort Lauderdale and Nakia Towns of Chattanooga.

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 and three days of distance learning each week could "change at any moment" before opening day arrives, incoming Superintendent Leslie Brown said Friday. 

The "hybrid" reopening blueprint introduced to the school board Thursday allows the school system to pivot among varying levels of face-to-face instruction and virtual learning based on the latest health data. 

If the coronavirus pandemic worsens, or Gov. John Bel Edwards moves the state back into tougher Phase 1 restrictions intended to limit the spread of disease, the school year could start off with nearly every student logging into class from home on a district-issued Chromebook. 

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. An additional day of orientation may be scheduled for Aug. 5 for students and parents to pick up laptops. 

Any family that chooses to do so can opt-in at any time throughout the school-year to a full-time, at-home online education. Officials are asking families interested in this option to register through an online portal on the school system's website. 

Students with disabilities will continue to receive face-to-face instruction on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with virtual support on Wednesdays, but will shift to completely virtual learning if the state moves back to Phase 1.  

With a laptop available for each of its more than 41,000 students, East Baton Rouge Parish is one of the few school system's that's now capable of transitioning, if necessary, to a completely virtual learning environment, Brown said.  

A tentative date of July 27 has been set for parents of students in pre-K through 12th grade to pickup a district-issued Chromebook if they haven't done so already. The school system is still working through how to accommodate students without internet access.

Brown, hired last month, starts work Aug. 3 — three days before classes begin. She said Friday that decisions are being made on a "day-to-day" basis and that parents should expect to be contacted from an official at their child's assigned school sometime in the next few weeks. 

The public will also be updated at least once a week on the reopening plans. 

The "hybrid" learning model will be re-evaluated every two weeks throughout the school year to determine whether it would be appropriate to expand or contract the level of in-person learning offered. 

Officials are hoping that in-person instruction expands over time as staffing and building capacity allow, and will prioritize students in pre-K through second grade, "early readers" who often require face-to-face learning to grow. 

Students will receive cloth masks and have their temperatures checked upon entering school in the morning and any who exhibit symptoms of the coronavirus will be sent to an isolation room under the supervision of a school nurse while parents or guardians are alerted. 

Classrooms will be sanitized with disinfectant wipes between classes and public water fountains will be disconnected. 

Officials said they would address staffing on a case-by-case basis, though they said surveys have shown most teachers and staff are comfortable with the "hybrid" option. 

The release of the local plan for reopening 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 Diocese of Baton Rouge had said previously it will resume classes in mid-August in accordance with state regulations and school-specific information will be released next week. Reopening dates for individual schools are available on csobr.org. Other non-public schools have been releasing their own re-opening plans.


Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater