LAFAYETTE — With three weeks away from the start of school, the Lafayette Parish School System is making changes to their return-to-school plan.
The first day of school remains the same, which is September 8. On that day, students in grades 1-12 will attend school on alternating days.
Beginning Monday, September 14, Pre-K and kindergarten students will start school on the hybrid schedule while 1-5 graders begin attending school daily face-to-face.
The following week, all Pre-K through fifth graders will attend school in person five days a week while middle school and high school students remain on the hybrid schedule.
After the news was reported this morning, KATC heard from several parents and teachers. Some are concerned about their students' safety, saying the decision was made last minute.
"Well, my reaction was shock," said Pearson Cross, father of two students enrolled in two Lafayette Parish schools. "My wife called me and said, 'Have you seen what they've done?' I said, 'No, what?' And, she said, 'Well, they've mandated that K through 5 are going to go back to school full time.'"
According to the school system, they made the decision because more classroom space has opened up since 30 percent of K-5 students are enrolled online.
LPSS Chief Administrative Officer Jennifer Gardner says sending kindergarten through 5th grade back to school full time was always the goal.
School administrators also believe cases of COVID-19 will decrease by the time school starts in September.
"We had changed to hybrid just because we had such a large spike in numbers after the Fourth of July," explained Gardner. "We've been constantly saying we're in constant communication with our local health officials. We know the number is steadily going down, and we still have quite a few weeks before every child would be back on campus. And so, we know that our little ones learn the best day to day in front of a teacher."
A teacher who wished not to be identified says she's concerned because she's among the high-risk groups.
"Yes, you are keeping us in a bubble during the school day, but how are we really going to socially distance 20 kids in a classroom?", the teacher said.
According to LPSS Chief Administrative Officer Jennifer Gardner, normally, there are about 24 kids to a class, which is about 850-900 square feet. With about thirty percent of students opting for virtual learning, that number is now about 15-16 students in a class, Gardner says.
Gardner also cited guidelines set forth by the Louisiana Department of Health, which state, during Phase II, 25 people can be in a single classroom, depending on the size of the room and if each individual can maintain six feet between each other.
LPSS parent Carrie LaFleur raised the concern about parents who have already spent money on day care, not knowing their children would be in school five days a week.
"Although much less of a concern for me personally, you’ve now cost families hundreds of dollars in non-refundable day care deposits, for those that needed supplemental care during hybrid days," said LaFleur. "As well, many Pre-K families opted out because they could not afford both Pre-K tuition and daycare."
On that topic, LPSS Chief Administrative Officer Jennifer Gardner says it's unfortunate; however, the situation is fluid. She added that those concerns are valid, but she hadn't heard from anyone about that situation at the time of the interview.
Some parents are hoping school administrators revisit their decision and look into how some other school systems in the state are reopening.
"What we disagree with here is that the school systems seems to have, at the end, just made a decision, and you're damned if you do and damned if you don't, and there's no middle ground." said Cross. "It really feels unfair at this late hour."
Gardner says the school system has heard their concerns and will be allowing some parents to register for the Lafayette Online Academy.
"So, we will be opening a short window of time tomorrow morning for those parents who thought, 'Okay, well, I'm going to be in a smaller class size, so I'm not going to opt over for LOA,'" said Gardner. "We wanted to give those parents the opportunity to still do that."
Registration for the Lafayette Online Academy reopens Wednesday, August 19 and will remain open through Tuesday, August 25 for students in grades K-5.
Some parents were worried a revised plan changes the new bus schedule. Gardner says that's not the case.
"The bus schedule that's been issued that went out a couple of weeks ago was built for this phase-to-phase K-5 [plan], originally," said Gardner. "The bus plan is still at a fifty-percent capacity, and it will stay in effect as it is now."