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On Thursday, the Louisiana Department of Education released highly anticipated guidance on how school systems across the state can reopen for the 2020-2021 school year.

The guidelines, created in partnership with the Louisiana Department of Health and the Resilient Louisiana Commission, were designed using the latest medical information and precautions which must be in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, the standards were developed with input from public health officials, education leaders, and other key stakeholders. That collaboration includes consultation with the Southern Regional Education Board, a superintendent’s advisory group of 13 district leaders from across the state, and a 20-member public health response team of medical professionals, public health officials and education leaders.

While the Department of Education allows each district the flexibility to decide how schools will operate, the guidelines offer minimum standards while also encouraging districts to prepare for three possible reopening scenarios: traditional, hybrid or virtual instruction. In addition, they explain how health requirements will change based on the three reopening phases.

“We developed this guidance by engaging experts on the virus – public health officials – and experts on what this guidance looks like when put into practice – school leaders and educators,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley. “We understand next year will be a new challenge for all of us as we educate through COVID-19. I have confidence in our collective talents to overcome these challenges. We will depend on each other for innovative ideas, best practices and the promise of a quality education for every child.”

Last week Caddo Schools leadership presented publicly its draft proposed options for reopening which incorporate the guidance released Thursday. The Caddo Strong Start 2020-2021 allows for three delivery models of instruction: traditional, hybrid and virtual. The models account for maximum group sizes, personal protection equipment guidance and cleanliness standards.

“Our focus from the earliest conversations regarding reopening has been on the safety of our students and staff,” said Dr. T. Lamar Goree, Superintendent of Caddo Schools. “The models created by our team are founded in advisements from medical professionals with thorough knowledge of the science behind this virus as well as what can be done to continue to provide high quality instruction to our children.”

Strong Start 2020: Guidelines and Resources for School Reopening is available now on the LDOE website, www.louisianabelieves.com, and includes a number of guidelines and best practices for districts including the following:
• Bus capacity and student group size
• Student symptom monitoring
• Face coverings
• Food prep and meal service

“Ensuring a strong start for students and educators this fall means equipping school districts with the resources they need to develop a solid reopening strategy,” said Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Sandy Holloway. “The tools and guidance released today, created in partnership with state health officials, will help school systems expand their existing academic plans to accommodate the operational changes necessitated by COVID-19 and strengthen the foundation for continuous learning going forward.”

Continuing to review the latest data and advisements from health and education officials, Dr. Goree said the district will decide its model for reopening by mid-July.

“We must provide our families time to plan and prepare for whichever model we decide is the safest to use in order to open schools on August 10,” Dr. Goree said. “However we begin the school year the decision will be based on ensuring the safety of students and staff.”