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Ascension Parish schools evaluating distance learning program ahead of fall semester; waiting on additional COVID-19 guidance

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GONZALES - It may be summer break, but Ascension Parish School officials are planning for some possible changes when the new school year starts August 5. 

"The fall of 2020 and the school year '20-'21 will certainly have some things that we'll have to approach and be very flexible around," superintendent, David Alexander said. 

Alexander and the school board will use June and July to take stock of the school system's distance learning plan used during the final months of last semester.

"The first thing we're doing is we're assessing what we did in the spring," Alexander said. "We need to debrief over that."

The school system is getting feedback from students, teachers, and staff on distance learning to see what has been successful and what hasn't. So far, nearly 3,000 students have filled out evaluations on the remote learning process that was implemented quickly once COVID-19 led to statewide school closures. For the year ahead, remote learning could still play a significant role, Alexander says. Even before the pandemic, Ascension Parish Schools offered a blended online program, one he says could be more popular this upcoming year.

"We had about 150 to 160 students in primary through high school that were taking advantage of that for various reasons," Alexander said. "We do anticipate there's the possibility that enrollment could go up and parents would choose that environment versus brick and mortar building."

Under The White House's 'Phase Two' guidance, schools are allowed to open, but back on campuses, how students interact could be different. What the exactly would look like in Ascension Parish is still being hashed out.

"The challenges around transportation, maybe not fill a bus up like you normally do with the number of students that you would have riding a bus," Alexander said. "How students move around in a building, sort of the daily traffic flow. Do you have to stay in static groups?"

When asked before Tuesday's school board meeting if students or staff might have to wear masks when back on campus, Alexander said that's unclear right now, but the school system expects more guidance from the state on that issue and others later this summer. But, Alexander says the school system will abide by any COVID-19 related guidance.

Whether the school year starts in classrooms or on computers, Alexander says Ascension Parish will be ready.

"We know logistically we can shift into that environment very quickly," Alexander said. "We need to gain the confidence that when we're in that environment, that we can offer those high-quality services, that we can hold children accountable for the work they are doing, and that we can continue to be their teacher."


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