Ouachita and Monroe Parish Schools Plan to Redefine COVID-19 Guidelines
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control released new guidelines for the reopening of schools across the country, forcing local schools to rethink their plans for the upcoming school year.
The theme of the new CDC guidelines is the emphasis on flexibility. Recommended prevention strategies still include masking and physical distancing, but the latest report tells schools to create their COVID-19 prevention strategies by working with local public health officials and assessing COVID-19 data in the community. region. The CDC said the main factors to consider are:
- level of virus transmission
- immunization coverage among students, teachers and staff
- availability of frequent COVID-19 testing
- the age of the children served at school
An example of possible CDC guidelines examines a school with substantial to high COVID-19 transmission, low immunization coverage, and a regular COVID-19 screening program. Given these factors, the CDC said a school could relax social distancing to increase students’ access to in-person classes. However, the school could also maintain mask protocols until there are lower transmission levels or higher vaccination numbers.
Additionally, the CDC said if school administrators were to scale back prevention strategies, they should do so one at a time to monitor any increase in COVID-19 transmission.
The schools of the parish of Ouachita have not yet defined guidelines for 2021-2022
While the CDC’s report is only suggestions and not mandatory regulations, the new guidelines provide a lot of food for thought for schools in Ouachita Parish that are slated to open within a month.
Ouachita Parish School Board President Jerry Hicks said updated COVID-19 guidelines for the 2021-22 school year have yet to be determined due to the increase in cases and of the spread of the new Delta variant. However, the district hopes to get a better idea of what the guidelines will look like after Tuesday’s school board meeting.
Darren Wheeler, director of Ouachita Jr. High, said it could be a few weeks before the plans are formalized.
“At the moment, the district is evaluating the information just received from the Centers for Disease Control and the Louisiana Department of Education,” Wheeler said. “The district is evaluating the information and formalizing a plan. We should know something in the coming weeks as to what our plan should be as a district.”
Monroe Town Schools COVID-19 Guidelines 2020-21 website details and recognizes that “plans are subject to change if necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19”.
The most recent COVID-19 Best Practices Described by Louisiana Department of Education and Louisiana Department of Health suggest that schools use a physical distance of 6 feet between individuals as well as face coverings. This latest set of guidelines also comes with a disclaimer that they are subject to change based on new information from the CDC and the state Public Health Office.
The state’s education ministry does not yet have a timeline for the release of its new guidelines. The State of Louisiana permits school districts to flexibility to define their own mask mandates.
According to the CDC, Ouachita parish has significant transmission of COVID-19 with 86.77 cases per 100,000 population in the last seven days, which translates into a 60.24% increase in cases compared to the previous week. The increase in cases goes hand in hand with the distribution of the Delta variant and the fact that only 30.1% of the inhabitants of the parish are fully vaccinated.
The push for in-person learning
After a year of online learning, students are struggling to make up for lost time.
A national study by i-Ready examined students in Grades 1 through 8 and found that fewer students are on grade compared to averages in previous years, especially when it comes to reading scores.
Only 55% of first graders were at reading level, compared to 68% of previous classes. For second-graders, 56% were at the reading level compared to 67% of former students. Math scores also returned lower for the 2020-21 school year with disparities up to 16 percentage points lower.
This same study found that school systems that primarily serve black and Latino students, such as schools in the town of Monroe where these demographic groups accounted for 86.1% of students as of 2018, had fewer students at the school level compared to schools with predominantly white student populations. Schools with a black student population greater than 50% saw a 10 percentage point decrease in the number of students at the reading level and a 20 percentage point decrease in the number of students at the math level.
However, it may be too early to tell what the full impact of online learning will be. Many at-risk children may not be included in research groups due to irregular participation in online education. The results can also be skewed by online students who received excessive help from parents with their homework.
What has not changed
The CDC still maintains that the following measures are useful for reduce the spread of COVID-19:
- masks for people who are not fully vaccinated
- Vaccines against covid-19
- physical distancing
- regular screening for COVID-19 in schools
- better ventilation in buildings
- stay home when you are sick
Children under two do not need to wear a mask. Generally, people do not need to wear masks outdoors, but unvaccinated people are recommended to wear a mask outdoors when surrounded by other unvaccinated people for a while. time.
The CDC has a checklist for parents and guardians who plan to refer their children to in-person learning, bit.ly/NewsStarCDCchecklist.