BESE issues guidelines, safety mandates for schools

Staff Reports

BATON ROUGE – The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to accept recommendations from the head of the state Department of Education on protocol for next year, which will include mandates on face coverings and a litany of sanitation procedures.

Under the plan, systems statewide should prepare for a traditional opening of the school year, along with alternate protocol if the coronavirus pandemic worsens, according to the state education superintendent.

All those components could vary in a state with 1,683 schools that serve 816,138 students, 47,799 teachers and 100,409 support employees.

The recommendations include face covering mandates for students in 3-12, and for students in K-2 as long as they can tolerate it.

As part of the plan, school systems must develop and submit models on learning, which would include how it will look in a fully online model. It would also address scheduling, staffing and student attendance – with particular emphasis on tracking if the pandemic forces classes to be held in virtual format.

BESE also improved a list of safety mandates for school groups.

  • Group sizes: The maximum group size that may convene indoors in a single room or outdoors at any time are 10 individuals (phase 1), 25 individuals (phase 2), and 50 individuals (phase 3).
  • Group composition: Younger students unable to wear face coverings or maintain physical distancing should be assigned static groups, which must include at minimum, students in grade 2 or lower. The composition of a group may change if students are able to maintain physical distancing. Students with disabilities must continue to receive special education services in the least restrictive environment possible.
  • Physical standards for use of school facilities: Groups that convene indoors must do so in a room enclosed by a wall or partition. If groups convene outdoors, each group must remain separated. Schools must limit crowding at entry and exit points to the greatest extent possible. Maximum group sizes and physical distance recommendations must be maintained. High-touch surfaces in rooms used by multiple groups must be cleaned before and after use by each group.
  • COVID-19 symptoms monitoring: Upon arriving at the school facility, each student and adult must be assessed for symptoms of COVID-19 as defined by the CDC, to include an initial temperature check. Each school must establish an isolation area for anyone showing signs of being sick, which must be cleaned after being occupied by a sick individual.
  • Face coverings: While inside the school facility, all adults and students in grades 3 through 12 must wear a face covering to the greatest extent possible and practical within the local community context. Students in grades pre-K through 2 may wear a face covering. Children under age 2 and individuals with breathing difficulties should not wear a face covering.
  • Facility cleaning: High-touch surfaces must be cleaned multiple times a day, including bathrooms.
  • Personal hygiene: Students must wash or sanitize hands upon arrival at the school, at least every two hours, before and after eating or using outdoor play equipment, and before exiting the school facility.
  • Hygienic supplies: School employees must be provided adequate access to supplies such as soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectants, paper towels, tissues, and face coverings when needed. Appropriate quantities are to be provided according to the role, number, and age of students served by the employee.
  • Student transportation: Buses must not exceed 25 percent capacity in phase 1, 50 percent in phase 2, and 75 percent in phase 3, spaced to the greatest extent possible according to the current reopening phase.
  • Determinations of student placement in a distance or in-person education program: Determinations are made in consideration of the student’s unique academic, social, emotional, familial, and medical needs, in consultation with the student’s parent or custodian.
  • Exceptions: LEAs will address medical or disability exceptions on an individual basis in accordance with local policies.

The complete set of standards is available online at go.boarddocs.com/la/bese/Board.