Sunday Focus: What are plans for back to school?
NATCHEZ — Going back to school this fall will be a bit different for teachers and students in the age of COVID-19 as public and private institutions put policies in place to help prevent spreading infection.
Below we outline plans for schools in Concordia Parish and in Adams County, both public and private.
Concordia Parish schools
Last week, the Concordia Parish School Board adopted a hybrid learning structure for the fall semester, which splits students into A and B sections to cut the number of students on campus at one time in half.
Students will attend in-person classes only twice a week according to their section’s schedule in addition to completing assignments from home, Superintendent Whest Shirley said.
The hybrid set-up is very similar to the plan announced by the Natchez Adams School District in June.
“Instead of having 100% of the students at school, we’re trying to cut that number down by 50% because that is the only way we can meet the governor’s guidelines for capacity,” Shirley said. “We can get 50% of the kids on the bus and in the classroom and spread them out 6 feet, but we can’t do that with 100% unless we move up to phase 3 of the governor’s guidelines (which is to fully open). Right now, we’ve got it set up where students chosen for the A schedule will go to school Mondays and Wednesdays and students on the B schedule will go to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays will be reserved for staff development, professional development and remediation classes for students.”
Shirley said parents are given the option to request fully virtual attendance for their children by filling out surveys on the school board website.
“Parents have until July 24 to go online or call the school board … and tell us that they want their child to be enrolled in fully virtual classes in August,” Shirley said.
The survey also helps the district place students of the same household on a similar schedule so that siblings can attend in-person lessons on the same days each week, Shirley said.
Shirley said some 300 households have already signed up for fully virtual learning on the school board’s website, which has further reduced the number of students on campus.
The hybrid learning set up is also flexible so that if the number of COVID-19 cases in the state was to increase or decrease as the school year progresses, the schools would be able to revise the structure and either bring students back to campus or send them home for distance learning accordingly, Shirley said.
“It’s going to take a lot of coordination, a lot of communication and a lot of scheduling to get it all set up,” Shirley said. “It’s a big undertaking. … We’re not stuck with hybrid classes for the rest of the year. Hopefully, by the end of the first nine-weeks, the numbers will be down and we can go back to traditional schooling.”
Delta Charter School
Delta Charter School Principal Jimmy Comeaux said Delta Charter School’s reopening plan is keyed to Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan for the state.
Delta Charter School is scheduled to reopen with in-person classes on Aug. 17, and will follow Louisiana Department of Health guidelines.
Delta Charter is prepared, however, to offer virtual classes in the fall to keep in-person attendance numbers down, Comeaux said, depending on what phase of reopening Louisiana is in at the reopening date.
Natchez-Adams School District
Natchez Adams School District is scheduled to reopen the week of Aug. 10 using a hybrid schedule of both virtual and face-to-face instruction, school officials said.
Students would be divided into A and B sections for which face-to-face lessons will be provided twice a week — either Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays depending on each section — while the remainder of lessons are hosted online.
Some students may be required to report to school on Fridays at their teachers’ discretion while some high school students who meet certain requirements may have fully virtual lessons, school officials said.
This plan may still change, officials said, based on changes in guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mississippi Department of Education and as the district works to instruct students in the safest environment possible.
NASD Public Relations Coordinator Tony Fields said officials of Natchez and Adams County schools are also steadily revisiting their reopening plans and are collecting data from parents, teachers and state and federal levels to do so.
During a Thursday meeting of the Natchez Adams School District Board of Trustees, board officials agreed unanimously to give students the option to wear either their school uniforms or everyday clothing because some parents or guardians may be unable to purchase the uniforms or stores may not have enough uniforms in stock in pandemic conditions.
Fields said the district is also making plans to offer a fully virtual learning option to students.
“Going virtual sounds like an easy process, but there are a lot of things we have to think about,” Fields said. “We have to make sure that not only do we have enough equipment for students to use but also make sure they have equal access to internet and make sure they are still receiving the quality of instruction they need.”
Fields said delaying the start of school, which is currently scheduled for Aug. 10, is a possibility.
“There are some things that we need to get in place that we simply do not have right now,” Fields said. “… First and foremost, we are concerned about the health and safety of our students, teachers and staff.”
Adams County Christian School
Adams County Christian School is still preparing to begin the school year on Aug. 10 with students attending classes on campus, school officials said.
In a letter emailed to parents and guardians last month, Middle and High School Vice Principal Cricket Daugherty said because ACCS has the benefit of considerably smaller class sizes than public institutions, the school has “more options available to make face-to-face instruction a reality” while following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mississippi Department of Health and guidance from the Midsouth Association of Independent Schools.
ACCS has a website “flipbook” that was sent to students and parents and overviews the school’s plans for reopening under COVID-19 guidelines.
The guidelines state that campus visits by non-staff and non-students will be limited and that thorough cleanings will be conducted regularly. Everyone will have their temperature checked prior to entering the building, and anyone with a fever of 100.4 will be sent home.
Masks will be worn when traveling on campus and may be removed once inside the classrooms. The school will provide masks for students, but parents should be prepared to have extras available.
Events that would otherwise involve large gatherings, such as chapel and pep rallies, will be recorded and broadcasted to the classrooms and/or online.
A block schedule will be implemented and special subject teachers will travel to classrooms, unless the activity can be safely performed outside while practicing social distancing.
Classes will be dismissed on a staggered basis to allow access to lockers and/or alternate locations.
Students will not be allowed to congregate in the hallways or bathrooms.
In order to ensure social distancing guidelines are met, 7th through 12th grade classes that contain more than 19 students may be divided into two groups that meet in two different classrooms near one another. The teacher will instruct from one area that will be projected to the other.
Administration will monitor the alternate classroom. The teacher will split his/her time between the two classrooms to provide face-to-face instruction to all students. Once social distancing guidelines are lifted, classes will resume meeting in one location as previously planned, the flipbook states among other guidelines.
Cathedral headmaster Norm Yvon said Cathedral would also open Aug. 10 following strict procedures to mitigate the spread of the disease.
School officials will take everyone’s temperature before they enter the building. If someone has a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit they will be sent home until the fever is over, Yvon said.
Everyone will wear masks and social distancing protocols will be in place.
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