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Public school start day pushed back

RESERVE — The start date for St. John the Baptist Parish Public School teachers has been pushed back to Aug. 17. During Thursday’s virtual School Board meeting, board members voted to approve a staggered return to school for students, with virtual students beginning classes on Aug. 31 and hybrid/traditional students returning to school buildings on Sept. 8.

New Superintendent Dr. Lynett Hookfin suggested the staggered approach after hearing numerous concerns from teachers and parents in the public comments portion of the meeting.

A public comment on behalf of the St. John Association of Educators stated, “We have determined that it is not in the best interest of schools, staff, students or the community to begin school in person until Louisiana sees a two-week period without COVID cases or at least until we see a significant drop in infections and fatality rates.”

A classroom teacher stated, “I am extremely concerned about the safety of students and staff by attempting in-person learning at this time. I feel we are not fully prepared for the ramifications that seem imminent as it relates to this pandemic.”

Hookfin said pushing back the start date would give school leaders time to monitor the COVID-19 situation in the community.

“As of now, our teachers don’t feel safe. Our teachers are giving their input, and we need to value that,” Hookfin said.“On Monday, I won’t be in the classroom teaching. I’ll be supporting principals. We have to ensure they (teachers) are comfortable. If the people on the front line supporting our students are not feeling safe, then we have to listen to that.”

Prior to Thursday’s meeting, teachers were expected to begin Aug. 10, with all students starting school on Aug. 17.

Hookfin added that pushing the teacher start date to Aug. 17 provides crucial planning time before students arrive back to school. She said having virtual students begin on Aug. 31 will allow teachers to get acquainted with using the technology before having to balance virtual and in-person instruction after Labor Day.

School Board President Patrick Sanders reminded the public that the situation is fluid, and these dates could change. The School Board is expected to discuss the calendar and opening protocol again at the regularly scheduled School Board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 13.

With instructional minute requirements still in place, Board members emphasized that the calendar will need to be adjusted to accommodate the later start date, whether that involves removing holidays (such as Mardi Gras break), adding on days to the end of the year or adding minutes to the school day.

Several community members questioned in the comments why the School Board was meeting via Zoom while expecting students to return to school in person. Sanders explained that the meeting was conducted virtually to maximize stakeholder participation in these important discussions.

The St. John School Board met virtually via Zoom on Thursday, Aug. 6 to discuss the opening of schools. Sitting in on this meeting was new Superintendent Dr. Lynett Hookfin, pictured at far left, middle row. Board member Patrick Sanders said virtual meetings increase audience participation.

“If we met at our regularly scheduled venue, this would only allow for 25 public members to participate in the meeting. We did Zoom for this particular meeting to allow more people to be involved in the discussion that we’re having about the re-entry into schools,” he said.

Thursday’s Zoom meeting was streamed live on Facebook, where it accumulated 6.4 thousand views and 930 comments by Friday morning.

During a School Board workshop preceding the 6:30 p.m. meeting, Board members discussed technology preparations for virtual and hybrid students.

David Andras, supervisor of informational technology, said teacher laptops have arrived and can be handed out as early as next week. There are 2,388 laptops ready for students enrolled in the virtual-only option. Another 403 Dell laptops are available from a Marathon grant.

Andras said 2,078 laptops are still being configured, and the School District is awaiting the arrival of the remaining 2,160 laptops on Nov. 4, 2020. When the final shipment of laptops arrives in November, St. John will be a 1:1 School District with a device for every student.

While virtual students have been given preference for laptops, there may be a technology shortage for hybrid students until November. School Board member Debbie Schum suggested making sure every household has at least one device to start the school year. Interim Assistant Superintendent Dr. Juanita Hill said instructional paper packets will be given to hybrid students who don’t have technology to complete lessons on virtual instruction days.

Details are still being ironed out. Decisions are also being made on how individualized kindergarten screenings will take place this year.

For up-to-date information on the evolving plans for school opening, please visit stjohn.k12.la.us. This page provides detailed information about safety procedures, transportation, technology and the platoon schedule for hybrid students.