Charter school returns to class, OLOL helping to keep classrooms safe
BATON ROUGE – While many school districts are still mapping out their plan to reopen next month, one school in Baton Rouge is already back in the classroom.
“We actually are a year-round school, so we go to school August through June. With COVID, we cut school off in May and decided to start back in July hoping we could have more face-to-face instruction,” said Heather Bourgeois, the principal at Louisiana Key Academy.
LKA is a charter school for children with dyslexia. Last week, students returned to campus to start the new school year. It’s the first school to reopen in the capital area and likely in the state.
“Our first thought was, 'really? That soon?' But then we heard about the reopening plan and all of the steps they put into place, and we were really blown away,” Kerri Tobin said.
Tobin has two kids attending LKA: a first and a sixth grader .
“They both hop out of the car in the morning. They're not sad to go,” Tobin said.
In order to reopen, the school implemented numerous safety precautions. There are three different drop-off and pick-up times, all students in grades 1-8 wear masks, the classrooms are spaced out, and the students wash their hands frequently.
“There's only six kids in my daughter's class so they can be six feet apart, and there's only 12 in my son's,” Tobin said.
But Principal Bourgeois says a huge help in being able to reopen is a partnership with Our Lady of the Lake. This allows nurses to stop by the school when needed, and students and staff are tested for COVID-19 twice a week.
“We wanted to assess how kids may or may not be vectors of the virus in a school setting. Working with partnerships with a few other entities, we thought this was a good opportunity to show what can be done,” OLOL Pediatric Infectious Disease Physician Dr. Michael Bolton said.
Dr. Bolton said the tests aren’t the typical nasal tests but saliva tests instead.
“We went with saliva tests for a couple of reasons. One, the most important, it’s least invasive. We’re also doing it to where we are pooling some of the tests so we don’t have to run as many as once. So we’re pulling ten kids at a time and if any of those are positive then we identify which one individual is positive,” said Dr. Bolton.
But before a student is tested, which happens on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the school is checking their symptoms through a web-based system called Cleared4School. It’s a sort of online daily survey.
“There are 10 different symptoms and we have to say no, [my daughter] doesn't have a fever, or [my son] doesn't have a cough. Then once we have done that, that information is sent to the school. So when we get to the parking lot they look at the number of our tag and say we’re cleared. Then the kids get their temperature checked. Then they go in at staggered times,” Tobin said.
It's definitely a different routine than many are used to.
“They don't seem to be overwhelmed or traumatized by the masks or distancing. Kids are adaptable I guess,” Tobin said.
But the partnership bringing together education and health is what Principal Bourgeois says makes returning to school a possibility.
“OLOL is incredibly, incredibly helpful,” she said. “They are the infectious disease doctors, so I get to be the principal and work on logistics and academics and working with our parents, and they get to help us make the best decisions to keep our school as low-risk as possible.”
“As long as you can assure that you're mitigating the risk knowing that you can't eliminate the risk, that is a proper way to go safely back in school,” Dr. Bolton added.
Louisiana Key Academy also offers virtual learning for parents who did not want their kids to return to school. Out of 400 students, 114 decided to remain at home.