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    COMMENTARY: Before you decide to return to schools, walk the journey of a student, teacher to see COVID obstacles

    In south Louisiana, one of the tasks we are accustomed to doing is preparing for emergency situations.  We prepare for hurricanes, other major storms, and catastrophes all the time, listening to the information provided by the experts, creating plans based upon their expertise and our experience, and should the catastrophic event occur, executing our plan. We have learned in the midst of the turmoil that we take care of our family and continue to obtain transparent and helpful information/direction from leadership and experts until we are back to normal.  One would believe we would have the same course of action as we prepare for schools to reopen with our children, teachers, and staff in the middle of a once in a lifetime pandemic.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.

    Currently, the U.S. Department of Education as well as various school systems seem hesitant whether to follow the guidelines of the experts, the Center for Disease Control.  If that fact alone does not give an intelligent person “a cause to pause” with following this leadership’s direction, these agencies, as well as school superintendents, have failed to provide specific details on how and what changes will be implemented to protect all people, most importantly the children, who are being told to return to in-person schooling.  Currently, not one Department of Education, School Board, or superintendent in the state of Louisiana has produced a detailed plan created for educating children in the middle of a pandemic for all of the encounters throughout the school day.  Case in point, one aspect of their school day— transportation.  It is less than a month for most school systems’ first day of school, and no plan for just transporting the children has been produced.

    According to the CDC, school children must be seated on the buses, one child to a seat in every other seat.  This requirement alone means school systems will need more bus drivers and/or need to extend the transport time.  However, let’s take a closer look at the issue of transporting the children in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System, as an example.  EBRPSS utilizes a transfer spot as a key component of its transportation schedule, whereby one bus picks up children from their neighborhood then takes them to a location where all other buses meet, and the children change to another bus that will transport the students to school.  In light of the issue of social distancing requirements, this mechanism for transporting students will certainly have to cease.

    In fact, EBRPSS more than likely will need to create an entirely new routing system, since few bus routes are designed to travel from pick up locations and conclude at the school or vice versa.  In addition to new bus routes and more frequent traveling between pick up and school to account for fewer children on the bus, NOW, the bus drivers will need to sanitize the buses between each transport to prevent exposure of contamination from one bus trip to another.  Hence, the transportation time is extended even longer and requires the school system to properly train each bus driver to complete this task.  To add to this laundry list of necessary changes, the buses must be timed properly at arriving at schools for drop off and pick up at staggering times, in order to adhere to the social distancing requirements.  One would tend to believe that buses would no longer be able to line up stacked together in front of schools and clusters of children congregate to exit and enter.

    More importantly, these plans must be created for two different sets of children for A and B days of travel, since the schools must alternate the days the children attend due to social distancing requirements which prohibits the classrooms filled with previous numbers of  30-40 students per class.  And, after considering all these changes, there still must be contingency plans for children that are missed at the bus stop, taken to the wrong school or traveled on the wrong day.  And, let’s remember all of these changes must be created for high, middle, and elementary children at public, charter, and Catholic schools by next month.  And, considering all things being new, there needs to be time for bus drivers to be trained and routes timed to determine how to complete all these tasks and have the children at school timely.  Quite frankly, there has not been one explanation regarding just the issue of transportation.  So, how can parents as well as school systems’ faculty and staff trust there are proper plans in place in other aspects of the school day, when the one task of transportation has not been addressed?

    Before any superintendent asks parents, faculty, or staff to attend school this year, that superintendent should walk the journey of an actual school day of a student, teacher, and a staff member, see all the COVID-19 obstacles involved at each area of the day and do his/her best to create preventative solutions to address those problems.  Once that information is obtained, provide those instructions and explanations to everyone involved.  At that point, most people will be able to make better decisions regarding what is best for their family.  However, without this type or some similar type of information, most people will not feel safe with the most precious of our world, our children, returning to the unsafe school environment.

    Headshot Anna Jackson JD

    Anna Jackson JD

    Anna M. Jackson, JD
    Community activist and concerned citizen
    Zachary, Louisiana

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  • BRCC to eliminate fees, offer aid for fall semester

    As the state continues to deal with the growing COVID-19 threat and the uncertainty regarding future timelines, Baton Rouge Community College is introducing special changes that will allow the college to continue offering the same great educational and support opportunities for students during the Fall 2020 semester.  BRCC is eliminating non-resident fees and suspending online fees for students this fall. A bevy of institutional aid awards are also available, and there is no application fee for new students to enroll. The elimination of non-resident fees will save full-time students more than $2000 and full-time online non-resident students approximately $2,500. This means out-of-state students will be charged approximately half of the cost over last year.

    “We are aware that many members of our community will need BRCC more than ever after dealing with the repercussions from COVID-19,” said BRCC Chancellor Willie E. Smith, PhD. “We hope that by eliminating some of the financial burden, we can be a key partner in assisting people with getting the necessary training and credentials to begin their careers or continue their studies. As an accredited institution of higher learning, this incredible offer allows students to take courses here at BRCC that are transferrable to their home institution.”

    BRCC is also introducing special changes that will allow the college to continue offering the same great educational and support opportunities for students. BRCC will offer general education courses through online synchronous (live instruction) and asynchronous (attend on your schedule) classes, while Technical Education and Nursing and Allied Health classes, along with some labs, will be offered through a hybrid design, where students will complete some coursework online and attend some face-to-face classes on campus in a sanitized environment, while practicing social distancing and wearing masks. The college will continue to offer support for students with technology needs, and student services will remain online through the Virtual Student Center.

    There will also be changes to placement testing as new students who were previously required to take the Accuplacer exam will now be given a self-directed placement option upon enrolling to Baton Rouge Community College. Details will be shared with these students after they apply for admission.

    All registration and enrollment processes for the fall semester will be handled online. Students can visit www.mybrcc.edu or call 1-866-217-9823 for questions and information.

     The Fall 2020 semester also offers the following institutional aid initiatives:

    • Enroll in 15 hours and earn a $600 institutional award
    • Enroll in 12 hours in a hands-on technical program and earn a $600 institutional award
    • Enter the Work Ready U Program at BRCC and concurrently enroll in 6 credit hours to earn a $500 institutional award
    • Complete the HISET with BRCC and earn a $500 institutional award towards enrollment in the next semester

    Fall classes start August 17. There are four fall sessions available: The 15-Week Semester (Aug. 17 to Dec. 5), The 1st 7-Week Semester (Aug. 17 to Oct. 7), The 12-Week Semester (Sept. 8 to Dec. 5), and the 2nd 7-Week (Oct. 12 to Dec. 5). Registration is available at MyBRCC.edu.


    Fall 2020 At a Glance

    • Classes will be taught through online instruction both synchronously (live instruction) and asynchronously (attend at your leisure)—these will include general education courses as well as other program courses that do not require hands-on training.
    • Technical Education and Nursing and Allied Health courses will be taught in a hybrid model of online and in-person courses. Social distancing and mask wearing will be observed.
    • Technology support will still be offered.
    • Student Services will remain online and available via the Virtual Student Center.
    • New students who were previously required to take the Accuplacer exam will now be given a self-directed placement option upon enrolling for placement in Mathematics and English.
    • Several institutional awards are available for students who enroll for Fall 2020 courses. (More information is available: https://www.mybrcc.edu/news/iai.php)
    • Non-resident fees will be eliminated.
    • Online registration fees will be suspended.
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    Senate education committee to discuss La’s return to K-12 schools

    The Louisiana Senate Committee on Education, chaired by Senator Cleo Fields, is holding a hearing on Thursday, June 25, 2020 at 6pm in the John J. Hainkel, Jr. room of the Louisiana State Capitol to discuss plans for reopening Louisiana’s K-12 schools.

    The hearing will feature presentations by Cade Brumley PhD, Superintendent of Education, and Courtney Phillips, PhD, Secretary of the Department of Health. It will also include a question and answer session. All concerned individuals are encouraged to submit questions for possible consideration during the meeting.

    “As we look forward to the fall and the reopening of our school systems, we must send a consistent message to our constituents with regard to the plans and guidelines for the students of Louisiana,” said Fields. “Getting our students and teachers back into the classroom in the safest, most efficient manner is our top priority.”

    Individuals wishing to submit questions, may do so by emailing their name, address and question to selfs@legis.la.gov. Only questions received by email prior to 8 a.m. on June 24, 2020 will be considered for inclusion in the meeting.

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