Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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Schools report COVID cases; Community spread off-campus something to 'expect,' official says

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DUTCHTOWN - Most area school districts have returned to school as of Thursday - some already in school for more than a week - and area districts are reporting a handful of COVID cases among students.

Thursday, Ascension Parish Schools said it was tracking cases at "multiple schools," but it was not an alarming number.  The district did not reveal an exact number, although a note shared with WBRZ by a parent at Dutchtown High School suggested there were "individuals [at Dutchtown High that] tested positive for COVID-19."  

Classes resumed for the fall semester Tuesday.

School leaders were quick to point out state health agencies suggested schools remain open: "Health officials do not recommend closing our school." 

Classrooms will be "deep cleaned," according to a message to the Dutchtown High community.

"Although we should expect positive COVID-19 cases as long as the virus is present in our community, please know that we are following all guidelines to provide a safe environment," the school wrote.

The public school system said it was following its plan from the 2020-2021 (August 2020-May 2021) school year for COVID mitigation, the school year after the COVID outbreak forced schools to close.

Also in Ascension Parish, Ascension Catholic High sent its 9-12th grade students home for virtual classes through the middle of August after more than a dozen COVID cases were found in its students last week as school reopened.

"In an abundance of caution, and in an effort to halt the spread of the virus, ACHS began virtual instruction on Monday for all students in grades 9-12," a diocese spokesperson said. 

In-person classes will resume Wednesday, August 18.

Lower grades, kindergarten through 8th, continue to meet for in-person class at the school, the diocese said.

As of this week, most area students have returned to schools in Greater Baton Rouge.

The Louisiana Department of Health is launching an effort to combat potential outbreaks in schools. A K-12 testing program, funded with dollars from the American Rescue Plan, will allow any school district in the state to routinely test students, staff and teachers.

In the capital area, East Baton Rouge Parish Public Schools and Zachary Community Schools have signed on. Zachary superintendent Scott Devillier says on-site testing is another tool to keep schools open.

"The sooner you know whether a kid is positive or not, you can make adjustments and hopefully not expose other people to that," Devillier said in a previous WBRZ story. "We believe this is just another layer to keep our students safe."

Education officials are making strong attempts to keep schools open.  The WBRZ Investigative Unit reported in separate investigative reports this week, failure rates increased amid virtual schooling after schools closed when the pandemic first started in spring 2020.

Watch this story - Nakamoto: Failure rates increased in districts, but most school officials wanted to avoid sharing details

More in-depth reporting here - After drop in LEAP scores, state education officials work on plan to help kids catch up


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