CENTERVILLE — Students in St. Mary Parish will have an opportunity to resume new normal schooling by the end of September, once new COVID-19 plans are in place for the 2020-2021 school year.
Parish Superintendent of Schools Dr. Teresa Bagwell told school board members Thursday that her staff will begin working on revising its COVID-19 guidelines immediately to allow all students to return to classrooms by the end of the month.
Bagwell said the move comes in the wake of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ announcement of the state’s move to Phase 3 of his coronavirus recovery plan.
But on Saturday, school board member Marilyn LaSalle said she still isn’t sure how social distancing and temperature matters will be handled, “however, all students will be required to continue to wear masks.”
She said students who had opted for 100 percent virtual learning at home can continue to do so, as the parish has provided that educational service for the past 10 years.
“If they lock into virtual learning, however, they will be locked in for the year. They will not be allowed to come to classroom classes next semester,” she said, which is a temporary provision that has been afforded to all students in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Also, parents who signed up to homeschool their children will be able to continue to do so.
Bagwell said the opening of school on Tuesday presented a number of challenges, but she praised her staff for “quickly adapting to new methods,” and parents and students for “patiently adjusting to new wellness protocols and technology issues.”
“However, when I saw our students enter classes this week, it was exciting and uplifting,” she said. “Yet, we welcome the expansion to Phase 3 and the return to more traditional school functions.”
Also, Bagwell said that schools had a number of requests from parents who had originally signed their children up for virtual learning to have them return to class.
“We were happy to accommodate their requests,” she said.
Needless to say, Bagwell said she expects to have traditional class by the end of the month.
The start of school in St. Mary was originally slated for Aug. 10 and 11, despite the objections of three school board members who wanted to start after Labor Day.
Parents and some teachers also voiced an objection and the school board called a special meeting to reconsider the start date to Sept. 8.
During the summer, the administration set COVID-19 protocol policies at each school, which included multiple entrances for students and rules for hand washing.
There are also temperature teams at each school.
The policies originally stated that elementary school students were to remain at their desks for lunch. They were to also remain in their classroom and not change classes.
Also, when junior high and high school students change classes, they were to be kept moving in one direction, to comply with social distancing.
Regardless, parents will still be asked to keep their children at home if they are sick.
If a student comes to school sick, or their temperature is abnormal, the student will be immediately removed to an isolated room and the parent will be notified.
Virtual learning has been a part St. Mary Parish Schools for the past 10 years.
The school system will provide laptops to students under funds received from the Cares Act. There will be some sort of sign out system for the laptops, as well as requirements for their use.
St. Mary Parish Councilman Craig Mathews, also a parent, said he isn’t all that excited about the return to traditional classes.
Mathews was a strong opponent of the opening of school before Labor Day, in August.
“Despite Governor Edwards’ amended Phase 3 orders, the CDC and our nation’s science and medical experts are still urging that extreme caution be taken in gathering large groups of people, including teachers and students with the proposed reopening of schools, because this virus will certainly resurge again — particularly as we enter the fall and winter months, “ Mathews said.
“I still do not believe it is completely safe to physically reunite hundreds of souls onto our school campuses in the type of haste described by the Superintendent during Thursday’s School Board meeting. Rather we should gleam from the result of similar actions taken in the recent reopening of colleges and universities with now nearly 90,000 positive COVID-19 cases on college campuses nationwide. Those leaders are now retracting their steps and limiting attendance to virtual options only.”