By Cyndi Sellers
Cameron Parish Schools will open one week later than originally scheduled. At a special meeting on Monday, July 27, the School Board voted to delay opening schools until Friday, Aug. 14 to give teachers a bit more time to prepare for procedures being put in place to protect students from COVID-19.
The calendar was adjusted to make up the days, with school closing one day later, on May 21, two professional development days taken out, and the Veterans Day holiday removed. Students will hold Veterans Day programs in school on that day instead of earlier as in the past.
As of Monday, approximately 180 students had enrolled in the virtual learning program. Registration was extended through Wednesday.
Videos and information are available on the School Board website, and each school principal is making videos for their school websites to explain the new procedures to parents. Every school has a plan designed to fit their school and demographic.
School Board medical advisor Dr. Kevin Dupke said the longer the board delays the more time they will have to see how things are going in other school districts, but even one week would help. Discussions are being held with South Cameron Memorial Hospital, West Cal-Cam Hospital and Oschner St. Patrick’s Hospital, the institutions that provide medical services in Cameron Parish, to provide COVID-19 testing in the parish. He said response time is down to 2-3 days, and SCMH may have same-day tests soon.
Dupke stressed the importance of parents getting children with symptoms tested to see if they have COVID-19 or the flu, or just a cold. Students with a fever will be sent to the school nurse, and then home. Without a negative test, it will be assumed they have COVID-19, and they will not be able to return until they are symptom free. “If parents don’t want to test,” he said, “we may be closing down the school for influenza.”
School Board member Randall Faulk asked about planned procedures in case of infection. Teachers will be preparing lessons on Google Classroom for students who are quarantined at home and also in case the teacher is quarantined. If a teacher has to stay home because of a sick relative, for example, they may use distance learning to help an aide or substitute teach the class. With Google classroom, even a teacher from another school can fill in virtually if necessary.
School Superintendent Charley Lemons said that if one student in a class tests positive, the parents of the whole class will be notified that there has been a positive test. If two students in the same class test positive within 24 hours “it would be a different case,” he said. “We may have to send a class or group home within the first couple of weeks.”
All five school principals were on hand to describe the plans they are making for students’ health. Distancing will be practiced in the halls and classrooms. Static groups will be maintained as much as possible, with teachers instead of students moving between classes. Where students must change classes, as in high school, classroom changes will be staggered.
Face masks will be worn in the busses and in the halls until students are at their desks, which are distanced. All students will have their temperature checked within the first hour. Two mobile thermal imaging cameras have been secured for each school, allowing large groups to have their temperature checked at one time. Each teacher will also have a handheld thermometer. Teachers will be practicing movement from one area to another this week to see how well the process will work and to identify any problems ahead of student arrival.
Each school will be completely sanitized daily using disinfectant foggers. Restrooms will be cleaned and sanitized hourly. Doorknobs will be cleaned throughout the day. Touchless water fountains are available at Hackberry High School because of the recent ADA upgrades. The administration is looking into providing them at all schools as soon as possible. The hiring of extra support staff on a temporary basis to deal with the added cleaning requirements was approved.
Sports are not high on the priority list at this time, Lemons said. “We are focused on getting kids back in school right now.” He said he under- stands that sports are important for many reasons, but in order to have sports, you must first have kids in school.
Hackberry Principal Jimmy Witherwax, who serves on the LHSAA Board, said the LHSAA has adopted a wait-and-see pattern for sports. The next meeting is in September, but the assumption is that all sports will have a season, though maybe abbreviated. Most sports, including baseball, softball, track, and swimming, are allowed in Phase 2. Full contact sports, such as football, basketball and wrestling, would not be allowed until Phase 4, however. Football players need six weeks of conditioning to be physically ready to play, he said. “We don’t want kids to get hurt.”
“I know we don’t have the intricate details of every situation,” School Board member Joe Delcambre told the principals and staff, “but we don’t need it because that’s why we hired you.” He cautioned that guidelines will be ever changing, because information is constantly being upgraded. When in doubt, call the school administration, he said.