Plans for school reopening are offered
The Evangeline Parish School Board discussed three plans for re-opening schools in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also heard about a new virtual school at Wednesday’s meeting.
Superintendent Darwan Lazard told the board about three different plans for re-opening schools. The first plan is to open like a normal school year, with all students in school. The second would be a total virtual school, with students learning from home rather than going to school. The third, he said, is the most difficult and would involve a blended plan of one group of students going to school two days out of the week, and another group going two other days of the week. The days each group would be at home would be used for virtual learning. This plan would propose lengthening the school day from 7:45 a.m. to 4 p.m., for a four-day school week, and would offer free after-care for children from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., and a snack toward the end of the day. Mondays would be reserved to deep clean the schools and for teachers to hold virtual office hours. Bussing services would be adjusted to reflect this plan.
Lazard and his team are monitoring the pandemic situation and will adhere by the governor’s orders should the new school year need to be adjusted for safety issues. He also said they are working on connectivity in order to provide at-home students with internet access to be able to learn virtually, should the need arise.
School Board President Wayne Dardeau asked how separating the students into groups and alternating school days would affect families where an older sibling takes care of a younger sibling. Lazard said every effort would be made to make sure the siblings are in school at the same time.
Additionally, all students with disabilities would continue to be served by district personnel. Some services would be provided in-home, virtually, at a neutral site, or on campus.
Assistant Superintendent Michael Lombas presented the Evangeline Virtual Academy, a virtual school for students who do not wish to go to regular school. Classes will be taught by Evangeline Parish state-certified teachers based at the Evangeline Central campus. The virtual academy is free for grades K-12 and provides all the core requirements as well as a number of electives. Students will receive daily assistance, either face-to-face or online. They can choose the virtual school while still being enrolled at regular school, which makes them eligible for sports and extracurricular activities. Students must maintain progress to remain enrolled in the virtual academy.
Lombas said there was need for the virtual academy because they are losing students to other online schools. “Virtual schools are starting to replace traditional schools, and we cannot be left behind,” he said. He gave an analogy of how online shopping are replacing brick-and-mortar stores. “The same thing is going to happen with the school systems. Virtual schools are popping up everywhere. These programs are beginning to syphon students away from our regular public schools. We need to stop this.” He said so far they have lost 146 students to virtual academies and home schools. “We want to recapture those lost students, and we want to recapture those funding dollars.”
Registration is from July 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020 at epsb.com or in person at Evangeline Central, 4587 Vidrine Road. Phone 337-363-1089.
In other action Child Nutrition Program Director Karen Soileau presented the Summer Feeding Program for Evangeline Parish residents, ages 18 and under. The program will begin July 1st and go through the start of the 2020-2021 school year. “Typically during summer feeding we feed about 300 kids a day, give or take. My goal is 5,000 kids every two weeks,” said Soileau.
Special Education Director Kelli Lafleur discussed the establishment of the Evangeline Parish School District Mental Health Team’s compliance with requirements of CARES Act funding for districts to provide mental health services and support. Lafleur said, in order for the school board to receive funding, the district must provide mental health services and support to students and employees. “The district team will assist schools in providing a universal mental health screening tool to students and employees three times a year. This screener will not be part of the students’ academic records. It will be used to address and support any mental health concerns,” she said.
In other business the board voted to give professional employees step increases of $300. At previous school board meetings it was discussed there were a handful of supervisors who received raises on last year’s pay index change. By the time the board discovered the raises, the board could not legally take back the raises, so the decision was made to hold any increase in pay for those individuals so that other professional employees could catch up in pay increases. However, at Wednesday’s meeting, the board voted to allow the $300 step increase across the board for all professional employees.