Many St. Charles Parish students returned to their schools and classrooms today (Aug. 6) for the 2020-21 school year, while others are set to step back on campus tomorrow. And some will begin from a brand new, but familiar classroom setting – their homes.
These are days that several weeks ago hardly seemed promised, and for teachers, students and administrators alike, there will no doubt be more than the traditional “learning curve” for all. The school district’s reopening plan includes numerous adjustments and contingencies in lockstep with Louisiana’s phased reopening policies in an effort to shield all parties from the spread of COVID-19, including a staggered opening for students, a bolstered e-learning program, masking guidelines and distancing measures.
“We’re so excited and ecstatic for our kids to return, whether that’s through the physical classroom or online,” said St. Charles Parish Schools Superintendent Ken Oertling. “We know the impactful role we play in not only educating our children, but also ensuring they have emotional wellness support, ensure their nutritional needs are met and they have opportunities for physical activities … we take that responsibility very seriously.”
Oertling said the detailed plan for reopening came together via a strong collaborative effort over weeks of discussion, with the safety of students and staff set as the top priority.
That said, he added he knows all parties are being asked to adapt to numerous and considerable changes on the fly, and that the adjustment won’t be an overnight process.
“The challenges are still here on a day to day basis, and as such we’ll modify our approach when needed,” Oertling said. “We’re accomplishing two school systems with the same pool of resources. The challenges that come with this are so monumental from the standpoint where we’ve never dealt with something like this before. We won’t have all the answers immediately, but we’re going to be flexible.”
Staggered opening and hybrid scheduling
In order to allow for necessary time to review and implement routines and procedure adjustments, the parish’s public elementary and middle schools are having students return this week on a staggered schedule where students are grouped alphabetically. For grades 1-8, students with a last name starting with A-K return today, while those starting with L-Z will return on Friday. All students will report on Monday. Kindergarten students will go by the same routine next week (Aug. 13, 14 and 17), while Pre-K students will see A-K report Aug. 14 and L-Z report Aug. 17, with all students reporting Aug. 18.
High school students will attend class utilizing a hybrid schedule split into two groups (coded by school colors – groups of garnet and gray at Destrehan High and groups of purple and gold at Hahnville), who alternate days of attending school in person and days of required learning from home. Students are required to engage in all home learning lessons and complete all assignments, and daily attendance will be taken.
All lessons, both at home and on site, can be accessed through Google Classroom. Home lessons will be self-paced, with most estimated to take between 60-90 minutes to complete. Students may contact their teacher through Google Classroom with questions and concerns, but the district notes students and families should be aware teachers may not be able to respond until the end of the school day, or the next day.
During in-person class days, teachers will review home learning lesson expectations with their students. Grades will be determined by a combination of on-campus and at-home learning assignments.
Once the staggered opening is complete, pre-K, elementary and middle school students will follow a traditional schedule and be present on site at their respective schools five days a week.
All students third through 12th grade are required to wear face coverings, while students pre-kindergarten through second grade are strongly recommended to wear them. The requirements extend from the classroom to buses and transition between periods. School personnel is also required to wear face coverings.
Temperature checks will be conducted for everyone upon arrival. The school system has contracted a professional disinfecting service and installed enhanced cleaning protocols to sanitize sites on a daily basis.
Among a plethora of other measures, students are asked to not engage in physical contact with one another throughout the day. Movement will be minimized as much as possible, with limits placed on the number of students in a hallway at one time. Cohorts of students will stay together as much as possible throughout the day to minimize exposure between groups, and desks will be arranged to maximize physical distancing.
Meals will be served in individual, disposable containers and self-service stations will not be utilized.
The district has offered an option for continuous online learning (e-learning) regardless of phase, which would allow for families with heightened concerns over sending a student to attend class physically to allow them to attend online courses for the duration of the year. The e-learning program will encompass core academic content like English/language arts, math, science and social studies for students of head start, elementary and middle school. For high school students, e-learning will be provided in limited core content areas, and limited electives are offered as well.
Arrival and dismissal times
Scheduling adjustments have been made to account for bus capacity restrictions, temperature checks and staggered or multiple entries. At each high school, student take-in will be 7 a.m. to 7:15 a.m. and dismissal at 2:15 to 2:25 p.m. At Albert Cammon, Harry Hurst, R.K. Smith, J.B. Martin, Ethel Schoeffner and Luling Elementary, take in will be at 8 to 8:15 a.m. and dismissal from 3:10 to 3:20 p.m. For Allemands, Lakewood, Mimosa Park, New Sarpy, Norco, R.J. Vial, St. Rose, Carver and Eastbank Head Start, take-in runs 9 to 9:15 a.m. and dismissal from 4:10 to 4:20 p.m.
High school late take-in days will be replaced by early dismissal days.