UPDATE: The 2021-2022 Return-to-School Plan was unanimously approved by the board during the special meeting.
The Lafourche Parish School Board will vote on the COVID-19 plan for the upcoming school year during a special meeting Wednesday evening.
As of now, Superintendent Jarod Martin said, the plan is not to require in-school masking. Instead, he said the Lafourche Parish School District [LPSD] will only recommend unvaccinated students wear face masks. “We are going to communicate the recommendations from the CDC that all non-vaccinated persons wear a mask. But we are not going to mandate families and parents, visitors or students universal mask-wearing,” he said.
As per a federal mandate, students will be required to wear masks on buses, he said.
On July 8, The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) released “Ready to Achieve!” — a set of updated operational guidance for K-12 school systems, based on guidelines from state and federal health organizations, to use in the 2021-2022 school year. The recommendations include a face covering for all unvaccinated adults and students in grades 3 through 12 “to the greatest extent possible and practical within the local community context.” LDOE also recommends 3-foot physical distancing between students in groups and classrooms. “We’re going to follow them [LDOE guidelines] as closely as we can,” Martin said.
Fueled by the delta variant, cases are rising among the unvaccinated in Louisiana. The current situation draws concern from local school officials, Martin said. “The last report that we received showed Lafourche Parish had a percent positivity rating of 9%, and that is far above the threshold that health experts would say we should be at,” he told the Times last Wednesday. “Within some of our summer camps and other programs, we’re seeing some COVID cases occurring. So, the important thing — as it relates to our guidelines, for me — is that next year has not changed [as far as] our quarantine rules. If you’re in close contact, you have to quarantine; nothing has changed in that respect.”
“If we have students that do in fact become ill, then we have to conduct contact tracing, and that contact tracing is going to cause more students to have to stay home,” Martin continued. “As an educator, of course, the concern there is how many students are going to miss how many days of school and what does that mean for their ability to master the skills we’re trying to teach. Those are going to be the real challenges for schools.”
Regarding COVID-19 vaccine requirements for students, faculty and staff, Martin said it’s “never been entertained” by the school district. He also said the online program will be available for students with a medical excuse that would warrant virtual schooling.
Martin expressed that even if the board approves the return to school plan, it is still a fluid situation. “It is nothing more than a plan. As case numbers potentially shift in either direction, then our response is going to have to shift with those shifting numbers,” said the superintendent, who added that LPSD will be in “close communication” with health officials throughout the academic year. “We’re pretty confident that how we open schools will not be how we operate every school every day all year. There will be some adjustments to our expectations as we monitor this virus.”
The Lafourche Parish School Board’s special meeting begins at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 21, at the School Board Office, 805 E. 7th St. in Thibodaux. It will be livestreamed on the district’s Facebook page.
Feature photo by Kelly Sikkema