BATON ROUGE, La. — How public schools handle the latest wave of coronavirus cases will depend on local school officials in 69 districts rather than any dictate from the Department of Education.
“I think local decision-making here is really important,” said state Education Superintendent Cade Brumley.
“And I think you’ll see nuanced approaches based on the demands of local communities,” he added.
Students return to class all week after the Christmas and New Year holidays.
But this mini-vacation, and all the close gatherings amid growing cases of the omicron variant in Louisiana, raise questions about whether educators should shift gears on how to meet the latest challenge.
Some states are opting for ‘testing to stay,’ meaning testing students exposed to the virus for consecutive days so they can stay in class rather than being forced to quarantine at home. .
Districts and the state’s roughly 120 public charter schools are free to do so using a portion of the $4 billion in federal aid aimed at fighting the virus.
However, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) said that option was largely dropped a few weeks ago as new CDC guidelines for schools are expected any day in the future. other.
The state Department of Education website includes 13 pages of “potential practices” for local school systems on symptom monitoring, extracurricular activities and vaccines.
The omicron 2022 update, which reflects changes recommended late last year by the CDC, says students who test positive for the virus should stay home for five days and, if they have no symptoms, they can return to class and wear a face mask for another five days.
The previous quarantine period was 10 days.
“We have available a list of potential practices that have been recommended by the LDH,” said Brumley, a reference to the Louisiana Department of Health.
“But our position is that local educators and teachers in their communities must make decisions based on the best interests of their students and employees,” he said.
“I think the systems unfortunately have enough expertise in COVID mitigation at this point to be fluid and deal with situations with common sense as they move forward.”
Last year, Brumley sparked controversy when he said local districts should be allowed to keep students in the classroom if they have close contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus as long as their parents or their guardian support the move.
Edwards and state health worker Dr. Joseph Kanter denounced the decision.
Doris Voitier, superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish School District, said she has seen an increase in the number of positive cases since classes resumed on Monday.
“They don’t appear to be as severe, but we have more of them,” Voitier said, a reference to how omicron compares to what experts say is the deadliest Delta variant.
Mike Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said many local superintendents are in wait-and-see mode about how to respond to omicron.
Sito Narcisse, superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System, said prior face masks will remain mandatory for students until at least January.
In a letter to parents on Monday, Ascension Parish Schools Superintendent David Alexander said face coverings would remain optional in school buildings and offices.
Kindergarten through eighth grade students return to school on Wednesday and high school students on Thursday.
“We have already experienced high cases in our community and as such we expect cases to appear in our schools at a higher level than we experienced in November and December,” Alexander wrote. .
Wes Watts, superintendent of the West Baton Rouge Parish School System, said the only policy change for his district is to reduce quarantine time for students who test positive to five days, in accordance with new guidelines from the CRC.