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School Board members Myron Guillory, left, and Mary Ellen Donatto talk before the start of meetings on Monday in Opelousas. (Photo by Harlan Kirgan)

More than $800,000 spent on COVID-19 expenses, yet safety doubts persist

More than $800,000 has been spent in the St. Landry Parish school district on COVID-19 expenses, according to a budget presentation at a School Board Finance Committee meeting on Monday.
Also meeting Monday was the Building, Lands and Sites Committee.
Both met in-person for the first time since March. School Board meetings have been conducted over Zoom until Monday’s meeting, which had Board members, staff and others spaced at least six feet apart.
On Sept. 30, about 10,000 students are to begin reentry into classrooms for in-person instruction. As of Monday, about 3,000 students will continue to be educated online through the school system’s Virtual Learning Academy.
The school year started on Sept 8 with online instruction. The launch was accompanied by problems with students getting online.
On Sept. 11, the School Board voted to send students back to the campuses.
The details of the return were debated at Monday’s meeting. There was reason for confusion. A calendar for the school reopening was not posted on the school system’s website until Tuesday, but that detail was not the subject of the debate.
At Monday’s meeting, Jermaine Greene, an Opelousas parent, complained the School Board had several months to prepare for online learning to get it right and did not do so. Greene also said the in-person opening is flawed.
Greene said parents were given little time to consider whether to send their students back to in-person classes or keep them online.
Greene criticized the online offering. The Virtual Learning Academy, which is the option for online learning going forward, is different from the online learning launched on Sept. 8.
Starting next week, students in grades five through 12 will be in a hybrid setting that has them in classrooms three and two days a week in alternate weeks.
Students in grades up to fourth will be in classes full-time.
Claudia Blanchard, director of operations, briefed the Board members on the safety protocols in place as the students enter schools. The safety measures include temperature checks, cleaning regimes for students, classrooms and buses. There are touchless trash cans, touchless paper towel dispensers, touchless soap dispensers. Water bottle refilling stations are in the schools.
The school system is still waiting on some devices and Blanchard pointed out that every school system in the nation is placing the same orders.
Every school in the parish has an isolation room. Ten buildings were brought onto campuses to serve as isolation rooms.
The school system spent $65,000 to have the schools professionally cleaned in August and September. and August.
Yet, Mark Lazard II, an eighth-grade math teacher at Opelousas Junior High School, said some staff members are terrified to go back to the schools. Lazard noted the contact time for disinfectants to kill the coronavirus is longer than the time between classes. Lazard also said there is no room in many classrooms to socially-distance students.
Lazard said the School Board should have waited until at least the end of the first nine weeks to decide on sending students and staff back into the schools.
Board member Denise Rose said it was never planned by the Board to wait until the end of the first nine weeks to make a decision.
“This Board never said we are going to virtual for the first nine weeks,” she said.
Rather, the Board said it would follow the science.
Superintendent Patrick Jenkins said the parish’s positivity rate for COVID-19 tests had recently dropped to 3.5%, far from the 20 and 30% rates during the summer.

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