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By John Dupont

john.pcbanner@gmail.com

The return to classrooms may be premature in light of health concerns and availability of resources needed for instruction during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to school personnel who addressed the Pointe Coupee Parish School Board.

Teachers expressed a deep sense of skepticism prior to the Pointe Coupee Parish School Board’s decision on July 23 to continue with plans to open on-campus “face-to-face” classes in August.

Board members hashed out the issue over a long discussion that ended with an 8-2 vote in favor of a motion by board member Frank Aguillard to offer on-campus class for the 50 percent who favored the traditional classroom setting.

Teachers voiced their concerns over the health safety in the era of a pandemic, and whether the resources – computers, additional desk and other items – would arrive in time for the start of the school year.

A survey among teachers conducted by Livonia High School teacher Jamie McClung showed one of every two teachers are apprehensive about a return to the traditional classroom setting.

“It’s not that these teachers do not want to come back,” she said.

“They want to be in the classroom and with their students, but two out of three are concerned about safety and one in 10 feel there is still a lack of training and supplies that needs to be addressed.

“Even those who mentioned returning to school immediately have a fear that students would not be able to work in groups or even benefit from true assistance from teachers at their desk because of social-distancing concerns,” she said.

“Teachers need more time to prepare after training … we’ve never done this before.”

The board’s decision followed suit with the recommendation of Superintendent Kim Canezaro, who went directly by the Phase 2 mandates the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved July 14.

Teachers must gauge temperatures of students, parents and other visitors when they arrive on campus each day.

Handwashing stations will be placed on school buses, in classrooms, lunchrooms and hallways.

Masks will be required for all students in grades 3-12, while students in pre-K-2 – who are less susceptible to contract COVID-19 – will be strongly encouraged to wear facemasks as long as they can tolerate them.

Masks will be available on campus for students who do not have them, but a bigger challenge awaits schools, one teacher said

“Masks will run out, and children won’t want to wear them,” Livonia High teacher Lucy Boley said. “What will we do when they refuse?

The pandemic does not change Boley’s outlook about a return to school.

“I live alone; I’m bored, and I’m ready to go back, but I wish we were consulted earlier about this,” Boley said.

“All teachers are ready to do their jobs, but most are freaking out because they don’t know what they will be doing.”

The 2020-21 will be like none other before, which will require more support from the School Board, she said. “Teachers need a little reassurance.

“It will be a great year, but it will take a few weeks to get adjusted, so we just want you to know that if you have our backs, we will do our jobs,” she said.

The dark tunnel teachers and administrators fear is not limited to one school or district, Canezaro said.

“I know teachers and employees are stretched, and it’s going to look different and the planning will be overwhelming for teachers and administrators,” she said. “It’s not different for any teachers or administrators here, across the state and across the country.”

Canezaro said she does not expect a smooth start.

“We’re not going to get it right and we’re going to take some criticism,” she said. “Things are going to go wrong, whether you’re face-to-face or virtual.”

The concerns and uncertainty have sent the school system’s in a negative direction, Assistant Superintendent Karla Jack said.

“It’s becoming us versus them,” she said. “We have so many challenges already to get ready for our students, and we have to understand it’s about our children at the end, and we do have to protect our students and we do have to protect our staff.”

She urged teachers, administrators and board members to find a happy medium.

“There’s so much tension out there, not just in Pointe Coupee, but throughout the state,” Jack said. “You have certain factions and certain teacher unions that are pushing a strike … we can’t afford to do that right now.

‘We have to come up with a plan to get there, where they’re comfortable so it can affect the instructional programs of our schools,” she said. “Our main concern has to be our children.”