BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The Catholic Schools Office of the Diocese of Baton Rouge announced Thursday, July 30 that students will be returning to campus for in-person learning in August as scheduled.
Superintendent Dr. Melanie Palmisano says since school ended in May, principals at each school in the diocese have been having meetings about how to safely return to campus.
”If it wasn’t illegal, we were going back to school,” Dr. Palmisano said in an interview Thursday with Deacon Dan Borné, communications secretary for the diocese.
Catholic schools leaders say they believe returning to campus is important for the sake of the student/teacher relationship.
Dr. Palmisano says the diocese has been using Loyola University Chicago’s guidelines on how best to reopen amid the pandemic.
“We decided that one size fits none,” Dr. Palmisano said, meaning each principal will make decisions for their school.
She says medical consultants at Our Lady of the Lake have been visiting each campus in the diocese to determine the best way for the school to reopen for in-person education.
Dr. Palmisano spoke about how the International Center for Leadership in Education says there’re three principles that are crucial to learning, and that these principles reinforced her decision to return to campus. Those principles are: rigor, relevance, and relationship.
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The superintendent says students need to connect with each other in-person, not just online.
In terms of specifics, Dr. Palmisano says students in grades 3 and up will be required to wear face masks while at school. Younger students may wear them as well, but are not required to do so. She also says schools will be following Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) guidelines for social distancing.
Parents who have strong objections to their child returning to school can speak directly with school administrators, and some case-by-case basis exceptions will be made to allow students to learn virtually instead of returning to campus. Dr. Palmisano also says if there’s a major spike in cases, the diocese is prepared to return to virtual learning.
The diocese says it has been consulting with two pediatricians at OLOL, who have been answering their questions about how to reopen safely.
Dr. Palmisano says the diocese is not just concerned about student safety, but has also been considering the safety of teachers and staff as well. In many cases, shared desks and tables have been removed in exchange for separate desks that are more spaced out in the classrooms.
Superintendents in other Catholic districts have been collaborating during weekly meetings, Dr. Palmisano says, and other school systems are largely doing the same thing as the Baton Rouge Diocese.
Dr. Palmisano says while the diocese’s principals are tired, she believes they are very conscious of how important it is for families for their children to return to school. She says families are stressed and need to get back to some kind of normalcy.
In terms of recess, Dr. Palmisano says the state has said no equipment should be used and no contact sports should be played, but she believes some may be allowed depending on cleaning practices and each school’s individual setup. She says they’re relying on guidance from OLOL to make those decisions for each school.
“Trust in the process, stay informed, but trust that the school is taking the necessary precautions,” Dr. Palmisano said as her message to parents for this school year.
She says parents should trust that students will be washing their hands, they will be social distanced, they will wear face masks, they will learn, and they will be happy to be back in school.
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