Louisiana public schools unlikely to hold in-person classes again this school year

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – It appears increasingly likely that Louisiana public schools will not meet again in person for the rest of the school year.

Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) officers on Thursday asked Gov. John Bel Edwards to extend his order closing schools through the end of the spring term in May. His current “stay at home” order expires on April 30.

During his afternoon COVID-19 press briefing, Edwards said he had not had a chance to discuss the request with education officials.

“There’s a really good chance I’m going to quickly do what they’re asking me to do,” Edwards said. “I suspect that that order is forthcoming very quickly.”

The free market Pelican Institute for Public Policy urged Edwards and BESE to have a comprehensive plan for remote learning for all Louisiana students if school buildings are to be closed.

“While we understand Louisiana’s leaders continue the fight to contain COVID-19, our state’s parents need assurance that their child’s education will not be another casualty of this virus,” Ethan Melancon, director of education policy at the Pelican Institute, said in a statement.

The institute estimates that 44 percent of school districts are not providing adequate remote learning opportunities, and urged the Department of Education, with guidance from BESE, to “require all districts to offer virtual learning, where possible. For those unable to meet this requirement, a high standard of distance instruction should be required, with standards in place.”

Edwards also did not announce whether he expected to extend past the end of April the other restrictions he has put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. But he noted that recent models indicating a smaller death toll than originally was feared are premised on mitigation efforts continuing through May.

When restrictions are lifted, it will be a gradual process, Edwards added.

“It is not going to be like flipping a light switch,” he said.

Edwards said the Department of Public Safety and Corrections is looking into releasing home confinement nonviolent prisoners who are not sex offenders and are within six months of their scheduled release date, focusing on older inmates with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19 complications. Five of six members of a review panel would have to agree to the release, he said.

Edwards has approved the first grant from the Governor’s COVID-19 Response Fund, a $100,000 grant to the Three O’Clock Project, which expanded its meal distribution services after some public school systems shuttered their cafeterias.

A consortium of more than 60 restaurants is preparing thousands of meals daily, retaining restaurant workers who would otherwise have been unemployed, Edwards’ office says. The meals comply with U.S. government guidelines, letting Three O’Clock draw down federal funds to help pay for them. The nonprofit also relies on grants and contributions to underwrite operations.

At noon Thursday, the Louisiana Department of Health reported 702 state residents had died so far from COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. LDH said 2,014 patients were hospitalized and 473 of them were on ventilators.