School systems across the country are facing a critical decision in the coming weeks: When school starts this fall, what will it look like?
Lafayette Parish School Board members are expected to discuss a plan for this fall at next week's board meeting. So far, the administration hasn't released a plan, but with the BESE action last night, the end is in sight now.
We called board members to see how they're feeling about what school will look like. Most of them say they want to see the administration's recommendation - which is expected in the next few days. But most of them also want kids to be in school, safely, as much as possible.
Board President Britt Latiolais said he is waiting to see that plan.
"BESE has finally made their full recommendations, and I'd like to see what our options are. I want to hear what the educational community is thinking," he said. "In a situation like this, you need to defer to the educational leaders. So much has changed, just in the past four or five weeks. We are so far into uncharted waters, somewhere we've never been before. Nobody has a 100 percent answer."
Lafayette has a great online school, but kids need to be in school, too, he said.
"At the end of the day, we've got to educate our children. These kids missed the majority of March, plus April and May, now we're in summer break, that's 5-6 months these children haven't the structure, some kids need this," he said. "Some kids have to be on campus, like our 504 children, our special needs children.
"We have 31,000 children. We have to do what's right for 31,000 children. We can't cherry pick."
Board Member Don Aguillard, who retired after 40 years in education as the LPSS Superintendent, said there are a lot of questions still remaining after the BESE decisions yesterday.
"I would expect staff will take a couple days to understand the minimum regulations adopted by BESE," he said.
Aguillard's decades of experience in education brought many challenges, but nothing like COVID.
"This is what you could describe as a once in a lifetime kind of event. Nothing comes close to what we’re going through now," he said.
When he was superintendent in St. Mary Parish, the district dealt with damage from Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike.
"But while that was difficult and challenging, it doesn't compare to the challenges of COVID-19," he said. "Ideally, we want our kids back in classrooms with face-to-face instruction as soon and as safely as possible."
Aguillard said just some of the issues would be cleaning protocols, capacity issues, scheduling issues for school and transportation, an increased need for substitute teachers and bus drivers to accommodate the need for these adults to isolate when they've been exposed, down to questions about masks and what to do with children who arrive at school with a fever.
"It's a scary time for us, we hope and pray everything’s going to work out fine, but I know there are going to be some challenges," Aguillard said.
Justin Centanni said there are a lot of questions, and any plan will have to be flexible.
"I don’t know what school’s going to look like. It's a very fluid situation. If you had asked me a month ago, I’d have said "We're going to school," Centanni said.
But if school started tomorrow, things would be challenging, he said.
"I hope a month from now it’s a little better," he said. "I want to go to school. I think there are a lot of things to be said for school in school, in person, social development, interactions - there is so much gain from in-person school."
Centanni said the risk to teachers, and the issue of substitute availability when teachers have to isolate, have to be considered.
"It’s going to be difficult. I don’t know that it’s the smartest thing to just open school and go," he said.
But not opening school may not have the desired effect, because parents have to go to work, he said.
"If by closing the schools, not having children on campus, if those kids instead are going to daycare, we haven’t actually accomplished anything," he said. "If the point of not having kids on campus is to keep them from being in one place together - and they're just going to be together somewhere else - we haven't accomplished what we set out to do."
One way Lafayette is ahead of other systems is its "robust and established" online school, Centanni said. That school was set up many years ago and has been operating successfully ever since.
Centanni has three children, and while one will probably be attending that online school because of medical issues, the other two "will be riding the rollercoaster with everybody else," he said.
Mary Morrison, the board's vice president, said she expects the complete plan to be out in the next few days.
"We’re going to be rolling out something within the next couple of days. We want to make sure we have all our Is dotted and Ts crossed," she said.
But even with all the planning, there probably will be revisions, she said.
"We think we’ve covered all the bases, but we may have to go in and tweak a few things," she said.
Board member Tommy Angelle said he'd like to have face-to-face instruction if possible.
"I’d like to see the kids in school, as a former teacher I think its very important that the students be in school.
Obviously there are concerns relative to our teachers and their safety, but my personal opinion is they should be in school, receiving face to face instruction with the teacher," Angelle said.
He said that teachers must be able to teach without a mask for at least part of the day.
"In some cases, I think the teacher should be able to keep distance and not wear a mask while trying to articulate sounds, especially in lower grades," he said. "I don’t think there’s any better way to teach our students than face-to-face."
Angelle said that rotating groups of students so that capacity is 50 percent, and then adding in virtual days once a week, could work.
"We have 31,000 students in that age group that is not very conducive to being infected," Angelle said. "But when you get to the teachers, that’s another matter. But they can keep their distance and wear a mask when appropriate, as much as possible."
Angelle echoed Aguillard's feeling about his years in education.
"I started teaching in 1970 or 71. I have never ever seen anything remotely like this," he said. "Not mumps, measles, flus, nothing was like this. Nothing."
Board member Kate Labue said she puts the safety of the children first.
"As a public school parent, the safety of all children is of my utmost concern," she said. "We are wroking hard to find solutions to get children back to school safely, and/or offer parents safe alternatives."
Board member Tehmi Chassion, who has a doctorate in pharmacy, posted a long post about the subject on Facebook.
"The thing is...there are no GREAT choices before us. Each choice available comes with a set of detrimental effects that can be argued for an eternity. The key is to not focus on ALL the effects, but the "solution" that offers the least harmful effects. The portfolio before us is one of good, decent, and bad choices (a snake, an alligator, a shark, and a creature yet unknown) There is no absolute correct answer here. We must be able to live with OUR leap of faith into this unknown body of water," he wrote.
He writes that virtual school would be the safest.
"Please do not tell me the guidelines on being within 6 ft. for 15 minutes or more is how the virus is transmitted. That is not how a "VIRUS" works. Immunology and Virology did not change overnight. Please do not tell me that young kids are less likely to acquire and transmit the disease. Young kids are actually the ones who will transmit this disease at a higher rate. They are the ones who are simply not being tested yet," he writes. "When a teacher/ student will get sick and others get sick themselves or have to quarantine, the SAFETY measure that will be put into place is to virtual learn those involved when they are healthy enough to do so."
Here's the full post: