The 2020-2021 school year was discussed Tuesday night during the Terrebonne Parish School Board meeting.
Superintendent Philip Martin detailed the plan families can expect for the upcoming school year based off the guidelines by the Louisiana Department of Health, the Louisiana Department of Education and the Center of Disease Control (CDC).
Martin sent a letter regarding the safety measures to parents and employees in the Terrebonne Parish School District (TPSD) on June 30.
Many things were “somewhat of a surprise,” Martin said, before noting the suggestion that all adults and children age 3 and older wear face masks at the school.
“That’s probably something a lot of people were not anticipating,” he continued. “I’m not here to debate the merits of whether it’s a good guideline or bad guideline or any of them, but they are guidelines.”
Martin said the District ordered $32,000 worth of face masks last week for students that don’t have one.
Many of the procedures are not new, Martin said, such as the frequent handwashing that’s been suggested since March.
Water fountains will be closed and bottled water will be provided to students who don’t have anything to drink, Martin said. The guidance says to water fountains and clean them, but it’s “probably not realistic” to sanitize one after each child drinks from it, he said.
Martin also said there will be staggered lunch times so all students aren’t in the cafeteria at the same time and TPSD has purchased “very, very expensive commercial-grade disinfecting, sanitizing equipment.”
“The health of our kids and the health of our employees — you just can’t put a price tag on that,” he continued.
Transportation was brought up by board member Michael LaGarde. Martin said transportation is probably the most “logistically challenging” of opening schools. Capacity for the buses depends on what phase Louisiana is in, he explained. Fifty students can go into one bus in Phase 3, Martin said, which shouldn’t be an issue in that phase. However, if still in Phase 2, it’ll be more difficult because each bus will only be able to hold around 30 kids.
“That’s a game changer,” he continued. “And we will have to — we have no choice — but to run more routes. When you get to the capacity, go to school, drop those kids off and go back and get the others.”
Children must be in school, Martin said, but there are exceptions, such as those with significant medical issues.
“…And we will work with those families and all of those situations.” he continued. “At the end of the day, whatever decision is best for the kids, best for the teachers — that’s what we want to do.”
The letter to employees with the anticipated protocols for the start of the 2020-2021 school year can be found here.
Martin also discussed TPSD offering virtual learning as well as in-class learning, emphasizing that it’s “real school” — with attendance, grades, a curriculum and being taught by certified teachers.
“We have an abundance of high quality teachers who want to do the virtual as well as teaching their class,” he said. “That doesn’t surprise me with our teachers; they want to do it.”
The deadline to enroll in virtual learning is July 17, and the form can be found here.
At the meeting, school board member Gregory Harding said he received a lot of phone calls from parents concerned about their children not being able to participate in extracurricular activities if they are enrolled in virtual learning. Harding said that option should be voted on by the Board and not decided by Martin alone.
“We’re going to be very flexible,” said Martin, adding that if someone signs up for virtual, they can later choose to go back to traditional. “We asked that [at] enrollment period just so we know how much to staff for virtual school, how many kids to anticipate.”
Harding suggested putting on the agenda for a future meeting so there could be discussion from parents and so board members could vote on it.
Martin said it might not matter what TPSD decides, referencing a recent letter by State Senator Cleo Fields to Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and the Louisiana School Boards Association, urging “the suspension of all athletic activities that involve in-person participation by students in a group setting for the upcoming fall semester, including conditioning, practice, team meetings, and games.”
BESE is now required to send a list of district mandates, instead of suggestions, Martin explained, which should be in by next Wednesday. The Board agreed to discuss the 2020-2021 school year after those mandates are received.
“There will be challenges that we’ll have to work together to solve,” Martin said. “But we must work together with a common goal: what’s best for our kids.”