No comfort zone in pandemic for school system, Joffrion says

Staff Report

Louisiana has not seen the major spike in positive cases of coronavirus that other states have encountered in recent weeks, but it’s not the time to let the guard down, according to the head of the Iberville Parish School System.

Crescent Elementary School principal Gina LoBue takes a student’s temperature.  Also shown is school counselor Claudia Bourgeois

The vigilant approach officials have taken at all campuses across the parish has worked well, but the school system has to stay on guard over possibilities that the numbers could spike locally, Superintendent Arthur Joffrion said Monday.

“We did see an uptick in the last two weeks, so we feel it’s important to go above and beyond, especially with students in the lower grades because it’s very difficult to social distance,” he said.

The school system, as with others across the state and throughout the nation, has instituted a litany of safeguard measures, ranging from temperature checks to handwash stations and distancing in classrooms and across campus.

The numbers waned not long after the start of the school year, but the modest increase in cases still concerns school officials.

“We have to be vigilant in our protocol,” Joffrion said. “We don’t live in a bubble.”

He emphasized that all cases with students have come through community spread and not from within the school grounds.

The school system has gone to great extents to determine the spread, Joffrion said.

“We look at video and sometimes, if questioned, we’ve looked at video from the cafeteria to see who sits with them,” he said “We also speak with the bus drivers and even do contract tracing of those on the bus.”

It has all become part of the routine protocol for school systems, which have required students to sit apart, wear masks upon arrival, use hand sanitizers, eat away from the cafeteria and wearing masks on the bus and around the campus.

The students have adjusted, but Joffrion recognizes that it may come with a price.

“It’s very hard emotionally on kids, who have had to endure so much change in the course of one year,” he said. “There are also social emotional aspects on all of us as teachers because they’re not only expected to provide quality education, but they must also make sure children are separated as far as can be, and then we still have some students who are in remote instruction.”

All of those components contribute to what has made the first three months a bizarre turn of events for students, teachers and administrators.

“Nobody ever thought we would be wearing masks and we all thought it would be more of an issue, but everyone has been very supportive,” Joffrion said. “We started school year gracefully, and though it was important that nobody expected perfection, and that we would do best we could do and keep sense of unity in our school system in n hopes that everyone knew we were in this together and we would provide all the support we could.”

The increase in cases and warnings of a spike will bring new tests to school systems, Joffrion said.

It’s also proof of how fast the tide can turn for the pandemic.

“Two weeks ago, I would’ve said mitigation protocol was really working and that we were more than pleased with small numbers of students and employees this has impacted overall,” he said.

“Today, with numbers based on the last two weeks, we don’t live in a bubble and as much as may have imagined.

“Because nobody lives in a bubble, the risk for everyone in a school system continues to exist, and as hopeful as we are that it would fade away, the fear is real and it has definitely required and intensified the work of a lot of people, from administrators on school campuses and teachers making sure mitigation protocol is in place for nurses doing contract tracing.

The additional workload won’t go away either.

“We now it’s in the best interest of employees, and it is definitely something that has required all employees to increase those workloads, even accountants,” Joffrion said. “It’s something that has not lessened anyone’s load. Unfortunately, it won’t just disappear after Election Day.”