JENNINGS - Members of the Jeff Davis Parish School Board made it clear Tuesday that returning all students to school full-time will not be possible until social distancing measures can be better followed in all schools and the number of COVID cases are down.
The board also agreed to continue to work on developing ideas and work on solutions to get all students back in school as soon as possible.
“As a board we need to remember that while this is a very serious health and safety issue, we also have a very serious issue with the lack of education that we are able to give right now,” Board President Jody Singelary said. “We have seniors basically missing their senior year right now. We have kids not properly being prepped for the ACT and being ready to take the McNeese and Sowela classes that can be offered to them.”
Superintendent Kirk Credeur said he has received a lot of community input, inquires and a push to return all students to a five day a week schedule, but voiced concerns for COVID numbers and other health and safety factors. There is no space for social distancing in many schools if students would return to classes full-time in the district’s larger schools, he said.
“If we were to get all our high school students back and return to normal, I will not be able to follow the recommended safety distancing as advocated by the state,” Credeur said. “Parents will need to have full disclosure of this information so they can make informed choices if we do.”
Returning students to school will also increase the chances of having more students quarantined due to exposure to COVID.
“We are in uncharted waters and trying to do the best we can,” Credeur said.
Nearly 75 students were recently quarantined at Welsh-Roanoke High School due to exposure and much of the administrative staff at Lake Arthur High School have been absent due to COVID.
Credeur said the schools lack physical space to separate students which increase risk of exposure. The parish typically has student section numbers higher than surrounding parishes with constantly changing classrooms. The average classroom has 25-30 students.
He said Jeff Davis Parish is further along to returning all students to school full-time than Lafayette, Acadia, St. Landry, Calcasieu and Cameron parishes. It is slightly behind Beauregard and Allen parishes.
About 66.7 percent of parents responding to a school district survey indicated that they were willing to accept the safety risk of insufficient distancing to allow high school students to return to school. Thirty-three percent of those responding indicated they were concerned about returning those students to full-time in-school instruction
A similar survey among teachers found 64.6 percent were concerned about the lack of distancing and the number of students.
Board members Terry Leger, who is an administrator in Calcasieu Parish, said nobody wants the the students back on campus more.
“We understand the importance of academics,” Leger said. “A lot of these kids haven’t been in school since March so they need to be back in school, but we have to ask ourselves is that more important than the safety and welfare of our students because we know the cases are through the roof.”
He said whatever decision the board makes it has to be in the best interest of the students, both academically and health wise.
School Board member Jimmy Segura realizes parents are willing to accept the risk, but said he is uncomfortable making the decision to place students and staff at risk by returning them to school too soon.
“Our realize our job it to educate, but unless we can come up with a different plan that allows us to separate and allows us to distance….but that takes time and money. We have to look at the big picture….We are not on the downsize of this. It is going to get worse before it gets better and we are going to end up having to shut schools down more than we did.”
Board member Charles Bruchhaus said returning students now would be too soon, especially in larger schools with more students. He urged the board to wait another six weeks.
“I believe it is a little soon to go forward with a five day plan,” board member Philip Arceneaux said. “Statistics show us that even going on the A/B schedule the numbers are increasing . Even the national news is saying we can expect an uprise in cases. I think we should wait until January - the beginning of the new semester and look at this again.”
Board member Donald Dees said the board needs to think of the safety of the children and the staff.
“I would love to see my grandchildren back, but I am also not willing to risk it,” Dees said.
Board members Malon Dobson, Denise Perry and Paul Trahan are also in favor of waiting, saying it is too early with the number of COVID cases increasing.
Board member Jason Bouley said maybe the board should consider holding school in warmer months when COVID is less susceptible.
The board agreed last month to allow students in grades pre-kindergarten through eighth grade to return to the classrooms five days a week for face-to-face instruction in the classroom. Students in grades 9-12 have followed an A/B schedule, attending classes in-person on alternating days.