(The Livingston Parish News) – The Livingston Parish Public Schools system does not intend to return to an all-virtual format at this point, Superintendent Joe Murphy said during Thursday night’s board meeting.
The announcement came as the state enters its third surge of the novel coronavirus since the disease’s outbreak began in March. Over the last several weeks, health officials have grown concerned with an ongoing spike in new COVID-19 cases, percent positivity, and hospitalizations.
For now, Murphy said the school system will keep to its reopening plan, mirrored by the phase Gov. John Bel Edwards has set for the state.
Like the state, the local school system is currently in Phase Three, which allows for face-to-face instruction for all students in grades K-12, though there is a 100-percent virtual option for those who have health concerns.
Edwards’ current order is set to expire on Friday, Dec. 5.
As of Thursday, there were 771 students in grades K-12 taking part in the district’s fully-virtual format, Murphy said during the meeting. The Livingston Parish school system has roughly 26,000 students in 44 schools.
“We will remain in Phase Three at this particular time,” Murphy told board members.
As new cases break out across the state, school systems have not been spared. In the latest report from the Louisiana Department of Health, schools statewide reported 877 new cases among students and 393 among faculty, staff, and volunteers in the week Nov. 9-15.
The total of 1,270 new cases was by far the most since the Department of Health began weekly reporting of COVID-19 in schools Oct. 21, eclipsing the previous week’s mark by 541.
In Livingston Parish, the most recent report confirmed 50 cases among students and none among faculty, staff, and volunteers. According to the district’s reopening plan, when a positive case is confirmed, that person must enter quarantine for 10 days while those deemed to have been in “close contact” must quarantine for 14 days.
Those measures are in line with the Center for Disease Control, the Louisiana Department of Health, and the response protocol set by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) regarding the reopening of schools, Murphy said in a video posted to the school district’s Youtube page Nov. 9.
Murphy said failure to comply with those guidelines could “jeopardize funding, place our schools in opposition to other government agencies, and possibly lead to the closing of our schools.”
“We understand this mandatory quarantine policy creates a hardship on everyone,” Murphy said in the video. “However, with the safety and well-being of our students and employees as our No. 1 priority, we are committed to following these recommended guidelines to maintain a safe learning and working environment.”
Livingston Parish schools started the school year on Aug. 7 in Phase Two, which featured a mixture of on-campus and online learning. The system transitioned all students back to a traditional model on Sept. 21 after Edwards advanced the state to Phase Three.
As the country and the state sees a record-breaking surge in new COVID-19 cases, Livingston Parish has not been spared, nor the local school district.
“The last few weeks have been challenging,” Murphy said during the meeting. “We are no different than anybody else. As you can see and you can read, there has been a surge in coronavirus across our nation.
“We’re dealing with that in our schools, and we’re being successful with it in our schools because our schools remain open and we continue to offer our services to the children in those schools.”
Friday, Nov. 20, marks the final day of school before the Thanksgiving break, which runs Nov. 23-27. After the break, schools are scheduled to resume for three weeks before breaking for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, Dec. 21 – Jan. 4.
Students are scheduled to return for the second semester on Tuesday, Jan. 5.
After the meeting, Murphy said the district intends to finish the semester in Phase Three but also noted that the fluidity of the public health emergency could alter plans, something he noted near the board meeting’s conclusion.
Murphy said the school system will continue to assess whether additional measures are needed.
“I cannot sit here this evening and say where we will be when we get back from the holidays or going into December or going into January,” he said. “But here’s the one thing we can say: We will always place the focus on our children first and we will do everything within our power to keep that service and make sure that service is the best for all our students.”