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Schools outline plans for opening safely

When St. Mary Parish public school students return to the classroom next month, they will do so with multiple safeguards in place as the district tries to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The plans, tailored for Phase Two of reopening, which the district anticipates the state will be in when school starts Aug. 7, were discussed Wednesday during the first of multiple “Welcome Back to School” forums to be held on Wednesdays and carried by KQKI 95.3 FM ahead of the start of school.
When they arrive at school, students will enter in one of multiple access points with no more than 25 students at a time moving through the entry point. The students will undergo a health and wellness check, including temperature taken, to identify anyone who is ill, before students will proceed to the cafeteria to wash their hands. There, they will receive a bagged breakfast.
Those with a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees will be isolated and examined for further steps, parish School Health Facilitator Lydia Duval said.
Parents will be contacted, so they can seek further medical help.
If a child tests positive for COVID-19, they would have to remain home for 14 days, Duval said.
St. Mary Parish Schools Superintendent Teresa Bagwell stressed that parents assess their child’s health before they leave for school and to keep their child home if they are ill.
“The biggest detractor of the health and wellness of all children is to encounter someone who’s ill and didn’t stay home, so we really want to implore upon parents, if you see any issues, don’t send your child to school,” Bagwell said. “Contact the school, let them know that the child is having some medical changes that day, and then call your health care provider and allow them to follow up on the specific symptoms and address them accordingly.”
She said if a child or an adult tests positive for COVID-19, the school needs to know this information.
“There are certain protocols that we need to employ at that point to make sure that we are protecting the health and wellness of all those students or all the adults that that child came into contact with,” Bagwell said.
To help limit the spread of COVID, Bagwell said that social distancing of 6 feet whenever possible, face coverings and washing of hands will be adhered to.
“The 6-feet social distancing rule, coupled with the face coverings and washing their hands are the best things that we can do to keep our kids safe and to keep them learning every day of the school year,” she said.
Face coverings will be required in third grade through 12th grade, but the school system will work with those who have medical issues that prevent them from wearing a mask, Duval said.
For further information, parents or guardians can contact the school health department at the Central Office Complex.
As for handwashing, students will be required to do so throughout the day, and time will be built in to the school day to allow for such.
While students in grades Pre-kindergarten through fifth will attend school daily, those in sixth grade on up through 12th grade will attend school twice per week, and receive online instruction the remainder of the time.
The sixth through 12th graders will be split into two groups with one group going to school on Monday and Thursday and the second group attending classes on Tuesdays and Fridays.
“On Wednesdays, the building will be cleaned, the kids will all participate in online activities, and teachers will have time to contact parents and follow up on any feedback for assignments,” Bagwell said.
School class sizes will be capped at 25, which includes the teacher. However, Bagwell said most classes usually only have 24 students typically, anyway.
Special Education students will be able to attend school daily, Bagwell said.
To facilitate online learning, the district used the majority of its Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act funding to purchase laptops for all students in grades 3-12 to use for the upcoming school year. The district’s teachers also have been training this summer.
As for transporting students to school, Phase 2 calls for 50% bus capacity with social distancing.
Only students who live together will be allowed to sit on the bus beside each other, district Transportation Manager Mike Ortiz said. Drivers will wear a facemask, and weather permitting, they will run their routes with their windows open.
“We will clean and sanitize before, between the routes and after the routes as well,” Ortiz said.
If possible, Bagwell encourages parents to bring their child to school instead of using bus transportation.
“This allows you a little extra time to kind of assess the child before he’s dropped off that morning, but also it breaks up the groupings that are entering a building at any given time,” she said.
At lunch time, social distancing will be practiced, too.
“Lunches may be served in some classrooms, and we will utilize our cafeteria as well,” Supervisor of School Food Service Claire Guarisco said.
Those students in junior high and high school who attend classes on the hybrid schedule will receive breakfast and lunches to take home with them for the days schools are not open, Guarisco said.

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