Covid surge makes masks part of school attire

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In person learning preferred

Carolyn Roy | News Editor

While Covid-19 is again raging throughout the nation and particularly in Louisiana, Supt. of Schools Dr. Grant Eloi is determined that students in Natchitoches Parish will return for face-to-face learning when school starts as long as it’s safe. During a school board committee meeting Tuesday, Eloi said he will follow La. Dept. of Education (LDOE) guidelines. State data shows students learn best with face-to-face instruction as long as schools adhere to safety guidelines.

This article published in the Aug. 7, 2021, print edition

“We now know how to address it,” Eloi said of Covid-19. “If I have to subject children who are already in poverty to two years of not learning, I have to start asking, what is their livelihood going to be 10 years from now,” Eloi said.

In addition to staff and teachers, students in the fifth grade and above must wear masks and younger students will be strongly encouraged. “Currently, there will be no exception to the mask mandate,” he said. “We are going to follow the law in Natchitoches Parish.” The Governor’s proclamation does provide for certain activities such as eating and athletic play. Neck gators will be allowed as long as they are doubled up on the nose and mouth. A one-page description of details about masking and quarantining will be available on the school board website.

A document entitled “Ready to Achieve” will be available with details in the Natchitoches Times and on social media. Board member Emile Metoyer asked about employees who did not want to wear masks. Eloi said that as of now, LDOE guidelines have little to no exceptions to the general policy. Eloi said the policy is under review by the firm of Hammond, Sills and Guice. Since the mask policy was proclaimed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, it is law and a term of employment. Anyone who doesn’t comply is subject to consequences, although they were not named. At its Thursday meeting, the board unanimously adopted a program from the La. Dept. of Health.

Jennifer Deason, EdD, is coordinator for a free program offered by LSU Health in Shreveport and spoke about the details. It will offer voluntary weekly virus testing at participating schools for staff and students with parental permission.

The school board will receive $40,000 to implement the program that will result in early detection of Covid-19. Each participating school will receive $14,500. It will be turn key, meaning LDH will administer the program. It will offer 24-hour turn-around testing results.

The COVID-19 leave policy will be the same as last year. Some $368,000 was paid for COVID-19 absences. Staff will be allowed up to 80 hours of paid leave for COVID-19 absences whether it be them contracting the virus or caring for family members. Certain instances could result in additional leave. Metoyer was the only board member to vote against the policy. The leave expenses will be paid from federal funds.

Eloi said the system is not at a point where virtual instruction is an option, particularly for students in the fifth grade and younger. Only 60 students in the parish have applied for next year. The school board will end the policy of teachers and staff wearing scrubs and jeans since disinfection will not occur at the level it was last year. Other parishes have also eliminated that policy.

Jennifer Firmin, a professional counselor, spoke about the Cabrini Health System school-based health clinics. There are clinics at Natchitoches Central, Lakeview, Marthaville and Provencal. Last school year, there were 2,054 students enrolled, 6,668 visits, 2,092 mental health visits and 4,856 medical visits. The budget for the four centers next year will be $300,000.