Like so much in 2020, the upcoming school year is going to look like none other in the last century. In-person learning, particularly for young students in primary school, is widely recognized as the gold standard for education. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to present significant challenges to the goal of resuming in person instruction for students at all levels which has been suspended since early spring. Educational leaders across Cenla continue to work diligently in concert with state and federal guidelines to prepare for the safest possible return to instruction for the 2020-2021 school year. These plans include the use of enhanced cleaning protocols, virtual and hybrid learning, social distancing, and personal protective practices like masks and hand washing. Be sure to check with your local school board, campus and health officials for the latest information as Cenla goes Back to School. And, of course, if you feel unwell, stay home.
The Rapides Parish School Board will follow its “Strong Start” plan to begin the academic year. To facilitate a smooth and safe reopening, students will begin the year reporting on a staggered schedule for the first days of instruction, with grades 1, 3, 5 and 7 reporting on Monday, August 10th and grades 2, 4, 6 and 8 reporting on Tuesday, August 11th. All students will report beginning on Wednesday, August 12th. For 9th through 12th grade high school students, alternating attendance rotations will begin on Wednesday, August 12th as well.
In Phase 2, learning will occur at Rapides Parish school campuses throughout the parish. All employees, and students 3rd grade and up, will be required to wear a face covering (mask) while inside the building unless medically exempt. Cloth face coverings should be washed before each use to remain effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Buses will be limited to 50 percent of bus capacity. Families are encouraged to carpool to the extent possible. Water fountains are being fitted with accessories to accommodate health and safety guidelines. For breakfast, grab-and-go breakfasts will be provided to students upon arrival at school. At lunch, meals will be served with minimal contact and social distancing guidelines put in place at the school level. Curbside service will be provided for those students choosing the virtual learning option.
Classrooms and groups will be limited to no more than 24 students per teacher, with social distancing in effect to the maximum extent possible. Students from preschool through grade 6 will remain in static groups in the same classroom throughout the day. Middle schools and combination schools will be allowed to transition between classes throughout the day, utilizing special precautions. High school students will follow a hybrid model of attendance, with students at each school being divided into two groups. Each group will attend class on campus on a weekly rotating schedule of Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday, alternating Fridays. Students will utilize distance learning on non-campus days.
The Rapides Parish School Board also recently authorized COVID-19 testing in the system’s school-based health centers. Eight of the sixteen centers will offer rapid testing for both students and school employees on an as-requested basis and anyone with a positive test will be quarantined in a designated isolation area until they can be picked up or safely depart campus. Students in schools other than the eight designated test sites will be able to register for testing at the nearest approved school-based health center.
The Strong Start plan was designed with maximum flexibility in mind and provides for easy transitions between recovery phases, as designated by the Governor. This includes plans for distance learning, a 100 percent virtual learning option that was extended to all students ahead of the school year through the Rapides Parish Virtual Program. The Virtual Program is not a separate school—every school in Rapides Parish offers classes through the Rapides Virtual Program and every virtual student is fully enrolled at his or her brick and mortar school. However, students in the virtual program will not attend the school campus for instruction, though scheduled appointments at the school campus may be required at times during the year.
The Rapides Virtual Program will generally consist of specific times for students to log in to see a live lesson and interact with the teacher, but will also consist of students accessing learning at different times, and working through the learning at his/her own pace. The Virtual Program will operate as a partnership between the school system and parents/guardians who will be responsible for providing a safe, distraction-free learning environment, compliance with guidance in the Virtual Program Handbook, and for children 10 and under, ensuring that an adult is present to assist the student, as needed.
For more information on the Rapides Parish “Strong Start” initiative, visit www.rpsb.us.
In Vernon Parish, students will return to campus starting Monday, August 17th with Pre-K through 4th grade. The remainder of students will begin Tuesday, August 18th, including high school students who will follow a hybrid schedule. Students with last names starting A-L will meet for face-to-face instruction on Tuesdays and Thursdays; last names M-Z will meet Wednesdays and Fridays. All high school students will participate in virtual learning each Monday. Superintendent James Williams assures parents, students and teachers that, “we will take every necessary precaution to keep our children and employees safe.” For more information, visit vpsb.us.
Likewise, Avoyelles Parish schools will start later than normal this year. Students will return to school starting on Wednesday, August 26th, three weeks later than originally scheduled. The school year will be extended to May 28th to recover the lost instructional time. In Phase 2, students with last names A-I will attend Tuesdays and Wednesdays; students with last names J-Z will attend Thursdays and Fridays. All students will also be afforded the opportunity to participate in a virtual learning program in lieu of in school attendance. “We want to be clear that we may have to adjust plans based on the needs of our learners,” said Blaine Dauzat, Avoyelles Parish Superintendent. “We are all in this together.” For more information, visit avoyellespsb.com.
Challenges are not limited to K-12 learning. Cenla’s institutions of higher learning have also had to adapt and adopt new models for instruction. Louisiana State University of Alexandria’s Advance Plan reflects the university’s commitment to the safety of its students, faculty, staff and guests. “LSUA is a community, and our members are expected to avoid endangering the health and safety of other members of the community,” said LSUA Chancellor Paul Coreil.
For the upcoming academic year, the University will offer students a variety of options for completing coursework, including on campus instruction, remote learning, HyFlex hybrid learning and online coursework. On campus instruction will be available for every class session, with mandatory face coverings in all campus buildings, classrooms limited to 50 percent room capacity to ensure physical distancing, and resources dedicated to daily cleaning of classrooms, high-touch surfaces, and common areas. Best practices for disinfection, according to CDC recommendations, will be followed.
Remote learning will consist of classes designed to be taught face-to-face. Lectures will be held on specific days/times, and students are expected to login to the required video conference and participate during the designated class time. Remote courses offer students the opportunity to have a structured class environment and engage on a personal level with classmates and faculty without physically being on campus. The HyFlex option is a hybrid between on-campus and remote. Students will rotate between meeting in a classroom and via video conference.
Courses that were originally been designated as 100 percent online will continue as normal. Students may login at their convenience and complete coursework and discussion online as usual.
“This continues to be a moving target as each day brings new challenges and the potential need for plan adjustments,” said Dr. Coreil. “We all remain positive and continue to do everything needed for a fall return to campus while keeping everyone as safe as possible.”
For more information on LSUA’s Advance Plan for returning to campus, visit www.lsua.edu/coronavirus which offers a wealth of information, resources, FAQs, and LSUA’s Economic Dashboard.
Louisiana College will also begin welcoming students back in August with safety precautions in place. “We want to make sure we take every precaution possible to decrease chances of exposure and illness at LC,” said Dr. Rick Brewer, LC President. Incoming freshmen are slated to return on Wednesday, August 12th, with classes set to being Monday, August 17th. Dr. Brewer explained, “Some classes may be moved to completely online as a matter of necessity due to constraints of our facilities. Others may be offered in a hybrid format where sometimes students are in the classroom, and other times online, so that the number of students in the class is reduced at any given time. Other classes will be moved to larger rooms to allow for adequate social distancing.”
Prior to returning to campus in August, all students have been encouraged to self-quarantine a minimum of 14 days. “This is a measure that, to the best of our ability, will allow us to begin the semester at a zero baseline,” Brewer said. Students who have been unable to self-quarantine are requested to be tested for COVID-19, provide test results to the campus nurse prior to check-in.
During the semester, LC students will have access to TimelyMD, a service that provides unlimited, 24/7, free, on-demand access to medical advice or immediate therapy. Medical professionals can diagnose common conditions and licensed counselors can offer students a safe space to talk about anything at any time. All health counselors are professionally trained, with some specializing in faith-based counseling.
For more information on LC’s return to campus plan, visit lacollege.edu.
Upon return to campus, Central Louisiana Technical Community College (CLTCC) will restrict building and classroom access to CLTCC students, faculty, and staff only. Everyone entering CLTCC building(s) will be required to complete the Screening Process. Friends, family, and children will not be permitted in the classroom, offices, or common areas at this time. Those entering the campus on official business such as deliveries are asked to report to the designated screening station prior to entering. While students are encouraged to provide their own face coverings, CLTCC will provide masks upon request, as inventory allows. Faculty must wear college-provided transparent face shields when lecturing or providing instruction. Students and employees are highly encouraged to bring a labeled water bottle and a snack pack, and to limit use of elevators to essential needs only. Sanitation stations will be available outside of classrooms and students are encouraged to sanitize before entering the class and upon leaving.
Staggered attendance may be required based on the number of students in the class as well as the program of study to enable proper social distancing in the classroom setting. Instructors may also use Hybrid, Blended, or HyFlex delivery of courses as needed. Faculty and staff designed course syllabi keeping flexibility in mind and allowing for an accommodating procedure that ensures quality while supporting students. This includes make-up policies that support students who need to miss class due to illness.
Comprehensive information for returning to campus is available at cltcc.edu.
Northwestern State University has also made adjustments for the upcoming semester. Like Cenla’s other institutions of higher learning, NSU’s courses will be offered face-to-face, online and in HyFlex models. NSU President Dr. Chris Maggio said, “We are excited about resuming in person classes on our campuses. We are preparing for students to return to traditional activities in August.” Specific safety measures, in compliance with recommendations from the Center for Disease Control, have been implemented across all NSU campuses to ensure that the university community continues to do everything possible to decrease the spread of COVID-19.
For NSU’s complete return to campus plan, visit www.nsula.edu.
In the mist of such uncertain times, despite the best laid plans, challenges will emerge and adjustments will be required. Everyone has a part to play in keeping our students, teachers and communities safe as Cenla returns to school. Remember to wash your hands, wear your masks and if you feel unwell, stay home! Together, we ensure a strong, successful start to the new school year!