Ascension Public Schools releases guidelines, procedures for safely reopening in the fall

Ascension Public Schools preparing for next school year during pandemic

ASCENSION PARISH, La. (WAFB) - Schools like Bluff Middle and other high schools in Ascension Parish will operate on a hybrid learning model for the 2020-2021 school year.

Ascension Parish Public Schools released its new guidelines for this upcoming school year. The district will be implementing many changes due to COVID-19 in order to keep students and teachers safe.

“Well, first of all, it’s not going to be a little bit different, it’s different, and I don’t know that the differences are subtle, so the first thing we got to do is to recognize that the differences that we are facing right now are very unusual routines,” said Superintendent David Alexander.

Changes are coming for this upcoming school year and school districts in the Baton Rouge area are already implementing those changes. Ascension Parish will begin to make those changes as well.

“We had a lot of great ideas for the opening of school, a lot of things. We wanted to build a really strong culture here, and there are some of those things that we aren’t able to do with our coronavirus guidelines that we have in place,” explained Matthew Monceaux, the new principal of Bluff Middle School. “So it does hurt a little bit that we aren’t able to do some of those things that we would have liked to do with this amazing campus that we have.”

Pre-k through 5th grade students will physically be in school five days per week. Regardless, the school board wants its students back in the classroom, but they’re choosing to wait to keep everyone safe.

“We want our kids back in our buildings. We want them to learn. We know that they learn really well, the best possible situation is when we can serve them face to face,” said Jackie Tisdell, public information officer for Ascension Parish Public Schools. “So we are going to take every measure that we can to try to do that.”

Students in 3rd grade and up will be required to wear masks during school, and the school board plans to implement screening tests such as taking temperatures before students enter the classroom. Grab-n-go lunches will also be provided for students who are on campus and students who are taking classes virtually.

For now, Ascension Public Schools is still working out some of the final details, but the school board is hoping this routine will only be temporary for its students.

The following is a letter to parents from Ascension Parish Public Schools Superintendent David Alexander:

Dear Ascension Public Schools Families,

We continue to make preparations as well as look forward to providing educational services for students on August 10th. Our teachers will report to work on August 3rd, but as you know many have been working throughout the summer. We are very grateful to have such outstanding teachers and staff, and I know they are committed to providing great experiences for every student in Ascension Public Schools, whether that is online or in our school buildings!

Remember, the online application process ends tomorrow (July 30). It is very important that we have time to properly organize our support for those who have chosen online services, whether that is via Home-Based Virtual Learning or Blended Learning. If you enroll your child in one of the two online programs, you are committing your child to be a full-time online learner at least until the end of the first 9 weeks. More information about the online programs can be found at www.apsb.org/online.

For those students planning to attend school in our buildings for in-person learning, please remember that while we are in Phase 2, middle and high school students will be divided into two groups with alternating days of in-person and online learning. For the first week, primary school students will attend school in our buildings in small groups Monday thru Thursday and will transition to full attendance on Friday, August 14th. Following the first week, all primary school students will attend school in our buildings each day.

We have created a Safe Start Procedures and Guidelines document that may be helpful to you in terms of understanding our effort to strictly comply with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s requirements for openings schools as defined in Bulletin 741, Chapter 4. We hope this answers several questions you may have about operations for the school year. In addition, we continue to add resources to our website, www.apsb.org/2020-21, that we believe will be helpful for parents and students. One such resource is a new guide from the CDC: The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools this Fall.

As we continue to journey toward our anticipated student start date of August 10th, please remain mindful that plans are fluid and we will adjust as we receive information from the multiple layers of support agencies that have been guiding decision making for schools throughout Louisiana. These include, but are not limited to, the Louisiana Department of Education, the Louisiana Office of Public Health, our local Office of Emergency Preparedness, the Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, the CDC, and local doctors and regional hospitals. We are grateful for their guidance and support!

Please know, any adjustments that we need to make to our procedures and operations will be communicated as quickly as possible, but for now, we still plan to start schools for students on August 10th. Should Louisiana regress to Phase 1, that would require a significant adjustment to our opening plans, and should Louisiana move to Phase 3, that will have little or no impact to our current start of school plans.

In closing, many of you continue to ask the question: How can we help? As parents, this is where we really need your help and support:

  • Monitor your child’s health daily to include a temperature screening before they leave for the day, and please do not give your child fever-reducing medication before school. Sending your child to school when they have any symptoms of illness or ANY elevated fever potentially compromises the health of others and will result in you being called to come and pick up your child.
  • Take caution in sharing information about presumptive cases as information about a person's health is strictly confidential. Students and adults will become sick during the school year, as is normal, and we know that will continue to happen. Many, perhaps even most, of these illnesses will NOT be COVID-19 related, but rather usual illnesses that occur every year. As mentioned earlier, we do not want any student or employee to be in school with ANY symptoms, but there will continue to be traditional illnesses that require missed school days that should not draw alarm with regard to informing others. We will inform others, as needed, about any confirmed case of COVID-19, following our infectious disease policy and guidance from the Office of Public Health. This will include notification of anyone considered to have been a close contact of a confirmed positive case. Close contacts are defined as any individual within six feet for more than 15 minutes of a confirmed positive case.
  • Encourage your child to wear their face covering, every day, and to the greatest extent possible. Please help us help them cooperate. We realize that there are various opinions regarding the effectiveness of face coverings. However, the guidance we are obligated to follow comes from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and their guidance comes from physicians regarding the safe opening of school. We ALL look forward to the day when this is no longer required, but for now, please help us! And, of course, if your child has medical circumstances or conditions that prohibit compliance, we want to work with you. Please contact your principal for partnering to support any unique situations.
  • Provide your child’s transportation to school, if possible. We are running our buses and any child that needs transportation will be provided transportation. However, any family that can provide transportation would be a big help, at least until we reach full capacity again. To be clear, we certainly want to be your transportation provider should you have no other alternative.
  • Support our teachers! They are a phenomenal group of professionals that labor daily to provide the highest quality experience possible for every student. They will need your patience and your support. We will continue to learn to operate safely in our buildings with new routines that include periodic cleaning, personal hygiene, and daily monitoring of student health at the beginning of each day and throughout the day. In addition to all this, our outstanding teachers will be adjusting to support students both online and in class. We will grow into this, over time, but we can already anticipate some challenges and some obstacles that we will encounter early on. Our teachers will move us towards excellence as they always do -- we are confident of that. Please be patient and encouraging.

We will continue to provide you with information and updates. However, much of what you will need in the next few weeks is information from your school’s principal. Our school leaders are working to push out information as quickly as possible. I know you will continue to receive very important updates from them as we proceed through next week.

Thanks in advance for your help! We look forward to learning together how to overcome these challenges and create great experiences for students.

Respectfully,

David Alexander

Superintendent

Ascension Public Schools

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