Complex COVID protocol ushers start of school year

Staff Report

The 2020-21 school year resumes for teachers this week and next week for students across Iberville Parish, but safety protocols against coronavirus will command the spotlight alongside instruction.

Teachers reported for school Tuesday and will be on campus each day through Friday for professional development, but a different approach will bring students into the mix Monday, Aug. 10.

Schools will begin a “soft opening” for elementary, kindergarten and pre-K students, which will involve staggered schedules that bring half the students in on Monday and the other half on Tuesday.

A hybrid model for grades 7-12 will bring half the students in on Monday and the other half on Tuesday, while all students will go virtual on Wednesday. One group of high school students will attend on-campus class on Thursday and the other half on Friday.

Iberville Parish School Superintendent Dr. Arthur Joffrion

The process will require major adjustments to the new procedures, along with the modifications that will come with it, Iberville Parish School Superintendent Dr. Arthur Joffrion said.

"I think there’s a ranged of mixed emotions among teachers,” he said. “Some are so excited to come back that they can’t wait, while others really want to come back but have legitimate fears because so much is unknown, so it’s a range of emotions.”

Social distancing may pose the greatest challenge, both with teachers and students.

"Teachers by nature are very kind and loving, especially our elementary teachers are very accustomed to hugging and loving on their children,” Joffrion said. “That’s going to be some of the biggest challenge, even with one another, since they haven’t seen each other in months, and they are excited to be back together, so social distancing will be tough for everyone.”

Masks could also pose a challenge for the campuses, particularly with the students. Those in grades 3-12 are required to wear face covering throughout the day, while younger students are also encouraged to wear them as much as possible.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” he said. “If there’s a condition that stops them from that, they need to provide documentation on the appropriate medical reason, which is just one of the requirements we have to follow.”

Schools will provide masks provided through donations from state Rep. Ken Brass, D-Vacherie, as well as the Iberville Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Prearedness.

Lunch will involve a process of congregate feeding, in which some of the younger students will eat in the traditional cafeteria setting.

The majority of the schools will have students using the “grab and go” models for breakfast and lunch and will eat either in the classrooms or on the schoolground.

Pre-cautionary measures will also affect the format for recess and outdoor activities, which will be held in static groups, Joffrion said.

“For example, if I’m a Pre-K teacher, my class will have a scheduled time, and will not be at the same time of any than other class so we can have a static group,” he said. “Pre-K and paraprofessionals will be provided with mechanisms to disinfect the playground before the next classes come outside.”

Some parents may opt for the “full virtual format” that the school system will offer through its Iberville Virtual Learning Academy. Remote learning will also be a part of the process, in which Zoom may be offered in some classes.

“We’re providing both the synchronous and asynchronous models of learning to provide best choices we can for our families,” Joffrion said. “Safety and health of our employees and students are of the utmost importance, and we’re committed to doing everything we can to stop the spread of covid-10 in our schools.

“Everything from arrival to dismissal will look different than it has in the past,” he said. “More now than ever when students aren’t feeling well, we’re asking parents to arrangements for them to stay home.”

For transportation, the school system will encourage parents to drive their children to school when all possible to minimize the number of students on the school buses, which are limited to 50 percent capacity during the ongoing Phase II restrictions.

On campus, the school system will rely on teachers under the guidance of their administrators to perform wellness checks. An additional nurse was hired for the district to ensure that all schools have a full-time nurse on their campus.

“We’re following all the guidelines BESE approved and we’re using the Louisiana Department of Health information regarding isolations and quarantine recommendations,” Joffrion said. “It’s dramatically different because of all the expectations in health and safety, but it’s the wellbeing that is the most valuable.”