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BESE adopts minimum health, safety standards for school reopening

Campus construction, renovations eyed at some Jeff Davis Parish schools
Posted at 7:29 PM, Jul 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-14 21:13:43-04

The Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) approved on Tuesday minimum health and safety standards for the reopening of K-12 schools this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The policies will apply to all traditional public, charter, and nonpublic schools in the state.

The policies adopted today outline baseline public health requirements for school boards and local governing authorities to follow when reopening. Each school board, or Local Education Agency (LEA), is required to adopt policies in accordance with the state's standards prior to the start of the 2020-2021 school year and submit a plan to the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) addressing each phase of reopening.

Specific requirements within the policy are defined according to the state's current reopening phase (phase 1, 2, or 3). A general summary of the requirements is below:

  • Group sizes: The maximum group size that may convene indoors in a single room or outdoors at any time are 10 individuals (phase 1), 25 individuals (phase 2), and 50 individuals (phase 3).
  • Group composition: Younger students unable to wear face coverings or maintain physical distancing should be assigned static groups, which must include at minimum, students in grade 2 or lower. The composition of a group may change if students are able to maintain physical distancing. Students with disabilities must continue to receive special education services in the least restrictive environment possible.
  • Physical standards for use of school facilities: Groups that convene indoors must do so in a room enclosed by a wall or partition. If groups convene outdoors, each group must remain separated. Schools must limit crowding at entry and exit points to the greatest extent possible. Maximum group sizes and physical distance recommendations must be maintained. High-touch surfaces in rooms used by multiple groups must be cleaned before and after use by each group.
  • COVID-19 symptoms monitoring: Upon arriving at the school facility, each student and adult must be assessed for symptoms of COVID-19 as defined by the CDC, to include an initial temperature check. Each school must establish an isolation area for anyone showing signs of being sick, which must be cleaned after being occupied by a sick individual.
  • Face coverings: While inside the school facility, all adults and students in grades 3 through 12 must wear a face covering to the greatest extent possible and practical within the local community context. Students in grades pre-K through 2 may wear a face covering. Children under age 2 and individuals with breathing difficulties should not wear a face covering.
  • Facility cleaning: High-touch surfaces must be cleaned multiple times a day, including bathrooms.
  • Personal hygiene: Students must wash or sanitize hands upon arrival at the school, at least every two hours, before and after eating or using outdoor play equipment, and before exiting the school facility.
  • Hygienic supplies: School employees must be provided adequate access to supplies such as soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectants, paper towels, tissues, and face coverings when needed. Appropriate quantities are to be provided according to the role, number, and age of students served by the employee.
  • Student transportation: Buses must not exceed 25 percent capacity in phase 1, 50 percent in phase 2, and 75 percent in phase 3, spaced to the greatest extent possible according to the current reopening phase.
  • Determinations of student placement in a distance or in-person education program: Determinations are made in consideration of the student's unique academic, social, emotional, familial, and medical needs, in consultation with the student's parent or custodian.
  • Exceptions: LEAs will address medical or disability exceptions on an individual basis in accordance with local policies.

The complete set of standards can be viewed HERE.

The standards reflect the Strong Start 2020 guidance, issued by the LDOE in June, and are a response to House Bill 59 of the 2020 First Extraordinary Session of Louisiana legislators, which required the board to adopt emergency rules informed by Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines to provide minimum standards, policies, medical exceptions, and regulations to govern the reopening of schools. The standards approved on Tuesday were developed by the LDOE in coordination with the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH).

"The safety of students and educators is on everyone's mind as Louisiana prepares to reopen school facilities this fall, and it is an issue that BESE takes very seriously," said Sandy Holloway, Board president. "We appreciate the input of all who contacted us in advance of the meeting to express their concerns, and those who participated in the discussion today. The standards unanimously adopted reflect this statewide conversation and the extensive collaboration between education stakeholders and public health leaders. The result is a practical framework of required safety measures upon which school systems will build the best reopening plan for their communities."

"I'm grateful to BESE for their thoughtful, steady leadership during this uncertain time," said Dr. Cade Brumley, State Superintendent of Education. "This sets minimum health and safety standards for every school in the state, while also allowing for local decision making by system leaders."

The policies were approved by BESE as emergency rules in accordance with R.S. 49:953 and are effective immediately. The emergency declaration remains in effect for 120 days or until the permanent rules are announced to the public.

As research and information about COVID-19 is updated, or if the LDH or CDC revise guidance regarding school settings, the LDOE will review the standards and propose revisions to BESE as appropriate and necessary.

Tuesday's BESE meeting was live streamed; find more HERE.

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