The coronavirus pandemic was an unwelcome surprise for schools, and many are struggling to plan for the fall without knowing what regulations will be in place at that time.
According to Lafayette High School Principal Racheal Brown, Ph.D., the Lafayette Public School District recently told Lafayette principals to resume school as normal this fall, but district officials are working on a possible virtual schooling model and a hybrid virtual and in-person schooling model if government regulations don’t allow for traditional schooling this August. LHS teachers are currently in the process of preparing virtual lessons for fall if school can’t return as normal, Brown said. She doesn’t think it will be possible for roughly 2,000 LHS students to return to classes at once if everyone is forced to remain six feet apart at all times.
“I can't fathom it; our buildings are not designed for that,” she said.
She added, however, that she’s sure the district will make the right decision regarding the return to school.
St. Edward School in New Iberia, a Catholic school, also plans to reopen as normal in the fall, albeit with some additional sanitation procedures, Karen Bonin, the school’s principal said. They also plan to integrate learning management platforms. This way students and teachers can easily adjust back to online courses in the event they need to close again, Bonin explained.
Students and faculty have been out of school for five months now, and while LHS did offer assignments online, all the work had to be optional as many students didn’t have the technology necessary to complete online coursework, Brown said.
“You can't require some kids to complete work and not others depending on who has access to the Internet and who has access to a device,” she said.
Even for those with Internet access and devices as distance learning began, Bonin said assessing students was something that required thought and consideration. A traditional classroom’s tests, projects, quizzes, classwork and homework are delivered differently in an online classroom. Each has various approaches to accomplish the same goals.
“A challenge was that for many of the ways our young students are accustomed to being assessed with these tools in an actual classroom environment; there isn't a direct online counterpart. Therefore, grading in these two different environments is not fully comparable,” Bonin said.
Students and faculty are likely going to need a lot of encouragement when they return to campus, as many will be out of practice and uncertain of whether or not it’s safe to return to school, Brown said. The Lafayette Parish School District is encouraging parents who aren’t comfortable sending their children to school in the fall to enroll their children in Lafayette Online Academy instead, Brown said. Both Brown and Bonin said they were caught off-guard by the sudden decision to shut down schools.
“Every administrator I’ve talked to seemed to have felt the same — we knew there was the remote possibility of a closure, yet none of us knew it would come as quickly and as immediately as it did,” Bonin said.
While the transition to online classes was a challenge, Bonin said this semester was still a valuable learning experience for many students and teachers at SES.
“Our staff and families worked together to make it as seamless as possible, and, for our children, it was exciting to see their teachers on the computer screen and to be taught in this new way while they were at home,” she said.