Together Louisiana discusses concerns about reopening schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Schools Reopening Safely
Students across the country are gearing up to go back to school in the fall whether it's online, in person or both.
Students across the country are gearing up to go back to school in the fall whether it's online, in person or both. (Source: WTOC)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) -The group Together Louisiana which is made up of religious and civic organizations is calling on Congress to provide funding to ensure the safety of students and teachers when campuses reopen and it says school should reopen when curve of COVID-19 cases is flattened.

The group held a videoconference which attracted scores of people to discuss concerns about reopening schools in Louisiana as the state experiences a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

Edgar Cage of the organization set the stage for the dialogue with a series of questions they would seek answers to from a public health expert.

“Is it safe to reopen schools under the current circumstances and secondly what specific actions do we need now from our elected officials to make equitable distance learning possible and to make it possible down the line to reopen schools safely?” said Cage.

The group heard from a 32-year public teacher who did not appear on video and only identified herself with two initials. She said her school is reopening with a hybrid approach meaning students can either return to school or engage in distance learning.

“I am terrified right now. I am in several risk groups that have been proven to be if I get COVID my outcomes could be deadly,” said the teacher of the prospect of returning to a class with students.

Broderick Bagert, an organizer with Together Louisiana questioned Tulane epidemiologist Dr. Susan Hassig about reopening schools at a time when cases are still increasing around the state.

“What would be your judgement call about reopening at the current time?” said Bagert.

“I don’t think at the current time schools should reopen. That doesn’t mean that they couldn’t reopen in a couple of weeks if everybody masks outside of the school environment and brings the underlying infection down,” said Dr. Hassig.

Hassig added that schools that do reopen with in-person instruction should focus on having younger students return first.

“And if that happens I would argue that bringing the younger kids in first makes more sense, they’re the most vulnerable to educational lags with remote learning and they are less likely it appears from what information we have to both acquire and transmit infection to those they interact with,” said Hassig.

While Hassig admits there is not a wealth of data relating to students in the school environment during the pandemic, she said research out of South Korea suggests older students transmit the virus more than kids under the age of 10.

“Adolescents were just as likely to transmit as older individuals in the households to their household members and to other contacts outside the household as well,” Hassig said.

She thinks during the pandemic middle and high schools should reduce or eliminate the practice of having students change classes during the day which exposes them to different sets of classmates.

“Schools may want to think about perhaps having just one or two classes in any given timeframe of a semester or the school year and capture those six classes that a middle or high school student make take spread over three separate chunks,” Hassig said.

Together Louisiana says it will lobby members of Congress about what should be in a future stimulus package. The group wants high-speed internet for all, financial assistance for families so parents are not forced into the workforce prematurely as the health crisis continues, and funding for additional teachers and support personnel to help decrease class sizes.

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