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Acadiana schools: COVID cases are increasing

Getting Answers
Posted at 11:08 AM, Nov 17, 2020

Acadiana school officials are reporting upticks in COVID cases and quarantines, and families want to know what that means for school.

We reached out to all of our Acadiana districts to see how they're doing. Here's what most of them are saying: They're hoping their communities won't have parties and big gatherings for the holidays - because it could mean schools have to close down again. And most agree: the cases they're seeing now are heaviest in area high schools, and contact tracing indicates they're related to large gatherings.

Here's the information from the districts we've heard back from:

In St. Landry Parish, Superintendent Patrick Jenkins said schools have had to cancel their last football games, and the system is trying to keep school open despite quarantines.

"Our biggest issue is not so much positive, but quarantine. If it affects too many teachers, we may have to go back to virtual learning," Jenkins said. "It is critically important for the safety of our educators, our children and our community as a whole that we all take necessary steps to contain this increase. If we don't, it may lead to the return of students to virtual learning."

Eunice High was closed for two weeks but is back to school, he said. Northwest High should be able to play its last game on Saturday after a break, but Beau Chene, Opelousas High and Port Barre High won't play their last two games.

In Jeff Davis Parish, Superintendent Kirk Credeur says his district has seen a "serious" increase in positive cases, which leads to more quarantines of classes, schools and sports teams.

In St. Martin Parish, Superintendent Al Blanchard says they're holding their own, but concerned about holiday parties and gatherings.

Cecilia Junior High just started back to school today after a 14-day closure after 14 staff were quarantined, he said. The students engaged in virtual learning for that time, so that everyone could stay home and be safe.

As long as the cases are isolated, the district can keep up, he said. For instance, a quarantine of both basketball teams and the coaching staff at St. Martinville High halted the spread there, he said.

And the hybrid system, with students in middle and high schools only attending school every other day, helps slow the spread, he said. Even so, there are more positive cases and quarantines on the middle and high school levels - even though K-5 students are having face to face instruction every day, he said.

Blanchard said that tells him two things: first, that the mitigations like masks, distance and hand-washing work; and second, that transmission is not necessarily tied to school activities. Kids in middle and high school are going to parties and gatherings, and that's where the exposures are happening, he said.

"We're having our challenges. It's hard to get subs for teachers and bus drivers, but we're managing right now," he said. "If it spikes, we may have to consider a shut down, but right now, we're managing it."

Blanchard said he's definitely concerned about the holidays coming up, because Halloween and homecoming were followed by increases.

He said he and his staff keep a close eye on the number of people out for quarantine at each school. When there aren't enough people to supervise the children there, the school is shut down, he said. Every school is different, too, he adds.

"It's case by case, because there are a lot of variables," he said. "Having lots of kids out is one thing, and having lots of faculty out is another thing."

In Iberia Parish, Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Joseph echoed a lot of this.

"Iberia Parish School District has seen an increase in positive cases in both employees and students. We are having to quarantine many direct contacts as a result. Most of our cases in the district are the result of community spread. There have been confirmed cases related to non-school sponsored homecomings activities. We are concerned about the activities of our students and families, especially with the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday," she said.

Iberia Parish also makes decisions about closures on a case by case basis, she adds.

"The district is prepared to make school by school decisions about virtual learning based on the data. The district knows that our students learn best with face to face instruction. However, with one-to-one student devices, online resources, and prepared teachers, Iberia Parish is ready and able to provide the best virtual experience for students if necessary," she said.

In Vermilion Parish, Superintendent Tommy Byler said in his weekly Facebook update that about 300 students and adults are quarantined across the district. About 13-14 students and 8 or 9 adults have tested positive.

Erath High is virtual only this week, and North Vermilion had to cancel football because of COVID quarantines. Neither team will be able to play their last games, he said.

"Y'all, the COVID outbreak is at an all-time high, and we're asking you to do your part, make sure you're washing your hands, wearing your masks with others, keeping your six-foot distance," Byler says. "most of our cases are coming from outside of school onto our school grounds, but we want to make sure we are doing the best we can."

In Lafayette Parish, Southside High is virtual-only this week, after the number of students sent home for quarantine reached 11 percent of those enrolled. Superintendent Irma Trosclair echoes what other superintendents have said; LPSS makes these decisions on a case by case basis, looking at all the variables for each school.