LPSD addresses questions surrounding upcoming school year at virtual town hall meeting

The Lafourche Parish School District held a virtual town hall meeting on its Facebook page last night to answer pre-submitted questions surrounding the upcoming school year and measures put into place to curb the spread of COVID-19.


Superintendent Jarod Martin began the meeting by reiterating that LPSD schools are taking a phase-dependent approach to reopening that aligns with information from the Louisiana Department of Education, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health.


Here are the questions posed by LPSD stakeholders and the district’s responses: 


What is the exact policy on the mask mandate?


Martin said that the mask mandate is required by the state Department of Education and the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). It is not a protocol determined by the school district.  


The mandate requires that all students in third through twelfth grade must wear a mask “to the extent possible” on campus, while students in Pre-K through second grade are encouraged to wear a mask. 


“This mask mandate is not unique to Lafourche Parish. It is now Louisiana law,” Martin said.


When will school return to normal?


Martin said that school is logistically unable to transport students enrolled in the district to school every day under the restrictions outlined in Phase 2. 


School will not return to “normal” until Louisiana enters Phase 3, he said.


“The truth is, even in Phase 3, with the safety practices we have to have in place, it probably won’t be normal. We’re hoping for normal soon, but I think that [it’s] a long road to get there,” Martin said. 


How will speech therapy work with the mask mandate?


Special Education Supervisor Daphne Jones said that the special education department has purchased various clear masks for children with speech problems and those who are hearing impaired.


“We are currently working on a different variety so we find what is most comfortable and what works best for each individual student,” Jones said.


Will K-2nd attend school five days a week, as these are the formative years for learning to read and write?


Director of Elementary Education Nancy Curole said that, under the current spacing and social distancing requirements, LPSD is unable to accommodate kindergarten through second grade students five days a week.


However, if Louisiana is still in Phase 2 by mid-September, the district will work to develop a plan to safely bring these students back to a five-day schedule. 


“We absolutely recognize the importance of having all our students return to school, but especially our Pre-K to third grade students, and exactly for the reason stated as to how critical the formative years are for learning to read,” Curole said.  


How often and what method will be used to sanitize school buses?


Transportation Coordinator Mitch Landry said that each bus driver in the district will be provided with a Victory Handheld Electrostatic sprayer to disinfect buses. Over the next few days, drivers are set to be trained on how to properly disinfect buses.


Landry said that buses will be disinfected after every elementary, middle school and high school route, totaling six times daily.


When will children go back to school full-time?


Martin said children will go back to a full-time schedule when Louisiana moves to Phase 3.


I don’t see how virtual learning is going to work for me and my child. Are there any other options?


Martin said that for the first two weeks of school, there are no other options outside of virtual learning. When the district moves to its A/B model on Aug. 24, some virtual learning will be required.


However, Martin said that virtual learning will not occur at a scheduled time each day, so parents and students can work at a time that is best for them.


“This will be a burden to many families, and we recognize that, but unfortunately, this is the best we’re able to do given the restrictions and constraints surrounding the school operations in Phase 2,” Martin said. 


How will the district handle band and P.E. classes during the two weeks of virtual school?

Secondary/Middle School Education Director Kenneth Delcambre said that Google Classrooms will be set up for band and P.E. courses.


In virtual P.E. classes, teachers will record lessons and assign workouts to students to complete. Students will fill out logs and submit those to their teachers to fulfill class requirements. 


For band classes, students will receive assignments from their band teachers as well. In addition, Delcambre said the district has purchased a program called SmartMusic for student use.


“That program basically will allow students and teachers to have access to a wide variety of selections of music that students would be able to practice,” Delcambre said. 


When will parents be notified of bus routes?


Landry said LPSD expects bus routes to be posted today on the transportation page on the district’s website. He said that anyone with questions about their route should contact him for clarification.


When will school supply lists be distributed?


Communication Specialist Dean Guidry said that parents should contact their child’s schools for individual lists.


What will a student do on the days that they are home in the A/B model?


Delcambre said that students will either be given assignments through Google Classroom or will be handed assignments on their on-campus days to complete and return on their next on-campus day.


Will virtual students have to go to school for tests?


Delcambre said that teachers will embed assessments through a link in Google Classroom. There will be a timeline for completing assessments and returning them to teachers.


Will parents have access to Google to monitor students’ assignments?


Guidry said that parents should get in touch with their students’ teachers regarding this inquiry.


For students using virtual learning, are parents going to get confirmation that they are continuing virtually on Aug. 24?


Martin said that there will be no reminder sent out to families. All families that chose virtual learning will continue on Aug. 24 with the virtual program that begins on Aug. 10. 


Will there be a certain time for students to be logged into class? What about the first day of school?


Delcambre said that lessons will begin to appear on Google Classroom on the morning of Aug. 10.


Virtual lessons will not occur at a set time, he said.  


“We do realize that we have a lot of working parents, especially for the younger kids, who may be at work and can’t assist their students in the morning, so all of those lessons…will be recorded so that the student and the parent can view those videos at a time that works for them,” Delcambre said. 


Do we know what day and times children have to meet virtually with teachers?


Delcambre said that teachers will conduct live Google Meets throughout the week, which is the piece of Google Classroom that is time-specific.


“Each teacher in each school will develop their own schedule for the different subjects to host their Google Meets,” Delcambre said. 


Do the children have to be on Google Classroom all day like they have to be at school?


Child Welfare and Attendance Supervisor Barry Filce said that students will not have to spend a designated amount of time on Google Classroom. Attendance will be tracked through timestamps registered when a student logs into Google Classroom. If a student fails to log in by the end of the day, they will not be given credit for that day’s work.


Attendance will be kept for the purpose of retention and grades, not truancy, Filce said.


Will LPSD provide protective cases for Chromebooks?


Curole said that LPSD will not provide protective cases for Chromebooks. Teachers will review guidelines for proper care with older students. For younger students, Curole said the district recognizes that they will need time to transition to this new responsibility. She said parents should talk to their school’s principals with concerns surrounding their child’s use of Chromebooks.


Why are mesh school bags still a requirement now that students are required to carry a Chromebook?


Filce said that the mesh school bag policy will be reviewed in the future, but it is still in place for now.


How do working parents ask teachers questions during virtual learning?


Curole said that parents are encouraged to contact their child’s teacher to determine the best way to communicate with them during this time.


“Teachers respond to email messages, phone calls or will maintain office hours on Google Classroom so that a parent may log on and ask questions and receive an answer live with the teacher,” Curole said.


How much work will be given for working parents to have to help with when they get home?


Curole said that students utilizing only virtual instruction will have to view recorded lessons that range from 15 to 30 minutes in length, to total roughly two to three hours of lessons on a given day. The following day, they will be required to complete assignments that will take roughly the same or less time.


Students can view lessons and complete assignments at any time of the day, as long as they are completed by the end of that given day.


Why did LPSD choose the A/B schedule instead of five days a week like sister parishes?


Martin said that transportation was a significant factor in choosing the A/B schedule. At 50 percent capacity, buses in the district can carry 3,500 students in total.


“We cannot move 14,500 students in three periods with that capacity,” Martin said.


In addition, cafeteria capacity restrictions posed additional problems, since only 25 people can be in the cafeteria at once.


“To feed a campus like Central Lafourche High School, as an example, with 1,400 students in a given day, twice a day, is just not attainable in Phase 2 based on the restrictions,” Martin said.


How many teachers did LPSD lose? How many teachers are working on their certification?


Director of Human Resources Bernita Deville said that from Aug. 2019 to Aug. 2020, the district had 44 resignations and 27 retirements, for a total of 71 teachers. 


Deville said LPSD filled all of its vacancies and is starting the year with four long-term substitutes.


As a single parent, virtual learning is difficult with young children at home and a job. What options is LPSD able to provide single-parent families? What are the expectations for single-parent families?


Martin reiterated Curole’s prior statement that LPSD recognizes that virtual learning is not ideal for younger learners, and the district is hoping to get to a place where younger students are on campus every day by mid-September if Louisiana has not moved to Phase 3 yet.


Can LPSD use a platform other than Facebook, as many families do not use Facebook?


Martin said the district is dedicated to keeping its school websites up-to-date, so the school is looking into adopting a new website platform that is more effective and responsive. 


In addition, LPSD is looking into setting up an email, call and text system to send notifications to individual schools and families. 


“Our schools are going to have up-to-date and informative websites, and we are dedicated to doing that,” Martin said. “We’re committed to getting better in our communication with the community, but we’re also committed to doing it at the school level.”