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Diocese of Baton Rouge announces COVID policies for Catholic schools; masks optional

The Diocese of Baton Rouge has released its policies related to COVID-19 for the return to...
The Diocese of Baton Rouge has released its policies related to COVID-19 for the return to learning at Catholic schools in the fall.(Unsplash)
Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 1:21 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The Louisiana Department of Education released its Ready to Achieve guidance on Tuesday, July 13, for public schools, and now, the Diocese of Baton Rouge has announced the policies for the start of the new year at Catholic schools in the region.

Diocesan and school leaders said they have reviewed the state’s guidance carefully and collaborated about finding ways to return to campuses safely. They added they expect to make changes to the policies as guidance adjusts and new information is made available.

RELATED: La. Dept. of Education releases COVID guidance for next school year

After the state superintendent of education clarified the department’s return-to-school guidelines as being only recommendations and not requirements, the diocese reconsidered elements of the policy that was distributed earlier in the week. Catholic schools in the Diocese of Baton Rouge will return to classes in August adopting the following protocols:

  • Masks will be optional
  • There is no requirement to prove vaccination status
  • Field trips and elementary sports programs will be resumed
  • Daily temperature checks will be eliminated
  • Guidance will be reexamined regarding other protocols including quarantine and physical distancing

ORIGINAL POLICIES:

General Policy: While on campus or at school events, all students and staff who have fully completed the vaccination protocol (shots and subsequent time requirement) do not need to mask or maintain physical distancing if a copy of the CDC vaccination card or verification from a similar State or medical authority is submitted. Schools must establish an isolation area for individuals who display any symptoms of illness and follow guidelines pertaining thereto.

Physical Distancing: Unvaccinated students must remain at least 3-feet apart in classrooms where mask use is universal and static/cohort seating is employed. Unvaccinated adults must remain 6-feet apart from other adults and students. In common areas, all individuals must remain 6-feet apart. When eating, unvaccinated individuals must remain 6-feet apart, and vaccinated individuals are urged to maintain distance when possible. During activities with increased exhalation (i.e., singing, shouting, band practice, sports, or exercise), individuals must be 6-feet apart. Further, these activities should continue to be held outdoors or in large, well-ventilated spaces whenever possible. School buses may operate at 100% capacity if all passengers are masked, the windows are open, and assigned seating charts are utilized and enforced.

Temperature Check & Illness: Students and adults do not need to be checked for temperature when coming on campus. Instead, self-monitoring of adults and parental screening of children prior to arrival at campus is required. If a student or adult has a temperature or is ill, they must immediately be moved to an isolation area and sent home. Water fountains must be closed, but bottle fillers are allowed.

Face Masks: Anyone who provides the school with acceptable medical verification that they have fully completed the vaccination protocol does not have to wear a face mask while on campus or at a school event. All unvaccinated adults and students in Grade 3 – 12 must wear face masks while indoors, including classrooms. While outdoors, students and adults do not need to mask if they adhere to physical distancing of 6-feet or more.

Quarantine: Vaccinated individuals do not have to quarantine, even if they are in close contact with COVID-19 infection, if asymptomatic. Students and staff members who are not vaccinated but who wear face masks may return to academic classes following a 10-day quarantine after being in close contact with a person infected with COVID-19, if asymptomatic. Because there is an increased risk of post-quarantine transmission associated with options to shorten quarantine, these individuals may not participate in any activities with a higher risk of spreading the virus (i.e., extra-curricular or co-curricular activities, including sports teams, PE class, music instruction, field trips, etc.) or take part in any activity that cannot maintain a 6-foot physical distancing. After 14 days, students and staff members in quarantine may resume all activities provided by the school. Students and staff members in early learning programs (Grades PK – 2) are required to quarantine for 14 days after close contact with infection. Students in quarantine for any amount of time (10- or 14-day) may have the support of virtual or online learning, depending on the school’s policy.

Activities: Field trips can be part of the school’s activities if strict adherence to masking, cohort grouping and transportation requirements is followed. Band and Vocal Music activities may be held indoors or outdoors within physical-distancing, masking and instrument-covering provisions in accordance with guidance approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Catholic School Athletic Association and Louisiana High School Athletic Association sports programs may resume within the guidance of Ready to Achieve. Concerts, athletic events and other gatherings can be held with guidance found at https://opensafely.la.gov/. All schools must post signs throughout campus indicating that “All unvaccinated individuals are required to practice physical distancing and wear face masks.”

Travel and Overnight Activities: Vaccinated students may share rooms on overnight trips. Single/Private accommodations must be provided for unvaccinated individuals. Transportation protocols must be followed, as per state guidelines.

Visitors to Campus: Non-essential visitors (i.e., volunteers, external groups, organizations, etc.) are not allowed to visit campus unless required by law or by contract for services. All visitors are required to wear masks and maintain 6-feet physical distancing from others.

Child Nutrition Program: Breakfast, lunch, and after-school meals will be provided at no cost to all students during the 2021–2022 school year. Grab-n-go packaged meals such as cereal bars, pop tarts, muffins, fruit, juice, and milk will be available for breakfast. Students will be afforded a main dish and/or menu choices for lunch, which will be provided through the cafeteria serving line. Extra items may also be purchased through the student’s cafeteria account, which can be funded through www.myschoolbucks.com. After-school meals will be distributed to the program director at each site. For lunch service, hard trays will be used for cafeteria dining and disposable containers will be used for dining outside of the cafeteria area. Principals should assign seating in the dining area so that unvaccinated students are seated at least 6-feet apart. Cafeteria staff will sanitize tables and chairs, as per state guidelines.

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