Home News-Free WPSB Superintendent Johnny Rowland answers questions about re-opening schools in the fall

WPSB Superintendent Johnny Rowland answers questions about re-opening schools in the fall

File Photo | Webster Parish School Board Office

After the Webster Parish School Board’s initial release of Reconnect Webster 2020, their comprehensive guidelines for opening up schools again come Sept. 1, it is understandable that some parents and students would have some more questions about how all of these new procedures are going to work. Johnny Rowland, Superintendent of the Webster Parish School Board, took the time on Tuesday afternoon in order to explain in more detail how some of the various aspects of the Reconnect Webster 2020 plan.

“We understand that uncertainty brings negativity and fear, so as we talk about the specifics of our plan today, we hope that some of these uncertainties, some of these fears can be addressed, while acknowledging that after today, yes, there will still be questions. Yes, there will still be concerns, but we will work through this together. We welcome your input, and always feel that you can contact the WPSB or our individual schools for guidance,” said Rowland.

“What we thought we would do here today is take specific aspects of our plan and address these areas one by one.” These areas include health and safety, transportation, school feeding programs, school uniforms, online registration, and academic scheduling.

Health & Safety

In regards to following health and safety guidelines, the school board is making certain that they are equipped with the tools and training in order to protect the wellbeing of their students and staff. This includes periodic sanitation, social distancing, mask-wearing, and temperature checks being taken every day once students arrive at school.

“Custodians will of course clean the entire school each day, as well as cleaning and disinfect high touch points and restrooms every hour,” said Rowland.

“Classrooms that contain students in grades 6-12 that change classes will disinfect the desks in high point touch areas at the end of each class. Self-contained classrooms will disinfect high-touch point areas hourly.”

“Hand sanitation stations with an alcohol-based foam will be available in every classroom and teachers will have available to them their own hand sanitizer and bottle of disinfectant spray.”

“Each school will have an administrator in charge of school sanitation, and will monitor the cleaning and sanitization process daily.”

Students in grades 3-12 will be required to wear masks on school campuses. In order to help their adherence to these guidelines, Rowland explains, “The Webster Parish School System will provide each student multiple masks, cloth masks, for them to wear, and in addition to that, there will be disposable masks that will be placed in each school for when we have those cases when a student or employee does not have a mask.”

Also, in an attempt to prevent sick students from attending school and spreading a disease to their classmates, students’ temperatures will be checked via a no-touch infrared thermometer and recorded when the students arrive at school each day by their first-period teachers. 

In regards to social distancing, Rowland stated, “We will practice the guideline for social distancing to the maximum extent possible. Each school has been tasked with setting up a sick room. We understand that especially with the severity of COVID-19 and where we are now that students will have to be removed from their static rooms and/or their classroom, and there will be somewhere in the school designated for them to go.”

Transportation

When it comes to transportation, the amount of students who are able to ride on the bus at once is dictated by what Phase Louisiana is in at that time. 

In Phase 2, the one Louisiana is currently in, school buses are set to have the capacity at 50% of the total capacity of the school bus. On average, this would mean a total of 33-38 students per bus.

In Phase 3, the capacity will increase to 75%, which will be an average of 50-57 students per bus.

In Phase 1, all students will be performing distance learning, so the matter of transportation is irrelevant in this case.

In terms of determining which students ride which busses and when, Rowland states,  “Students will be scheduled by household and bus capacity so that busloads will remain within the guidelines. Busses will travel with the windows down to have maximum air circulation, and students will board the buses where they don’t have to pass other students to get on and off the bus. All students will have assigned seats and be required to wear a mask while riding the bus in grades 3-12. School busses will be disinfected after each trip, and cleaned after each afternoon trip.”

“We’re well aware that in many households brothers and sisters may not share the last name. Our schools are being charged with determining who those students are and keeping that in mind as we plan to where we don’t have certain members of a household going in one day, and certain members of the household going in on another day. “

School Feeding Programs

“It’s safe to say cafeteria’s will not look how they did before we all went home in March because of COVID-19, but we are still going to feed our students. Those that are at school will receive breakfast and lunch, but it’s going to look a little different. You may go to the cafeteria and receive a grab and go, you may eat lunch with your static group or your class that you have been with, depending upon the guidelines or what the principal will have in store for how that will look,” said Rowland.

“But students will still receive breakfast and lunch, even those who are at home during Phase 2, or those that choose to participate in our Tech Connect Virtual Learning Program, will have meals available to them. Still working through the logistics of how that will look, but it will be available, and we will give you more details as we work through this.”

School Uniforms

“We understand there have been some frustrations with being able to purchase school uniforms or access school uniforms because of various reasons. We’re going to require that school uniforms still be worn, but I want you to know that if you need help, or if you need assistance in getting these school uniforms, there are many folks, many groups, many people who want to help you. You can contact your school principal, or contact other personnel at your school, and they will do the best to assist and help you. You can contact us here at the school board office, give us your name and information, and we will work to help you with this,” said Rowland. 

“For those that are experiencing at-home learning, the dress code will certainly be somewhat relaxed, although will not totally be discarded, and we will give more guidance as we get closer to school.”

Online Registration

“This is the first year we’ve ever had 100% online registration here in Webster Parish, so it’s safe to say that this is new to us, and we are working through the minor glitches and issues that we are experiencing,” said Rowland.

In order to help students and parents navigate this new method of registration, Rowland stated that personnel from the School Board and the parish’s schools have been trained to assist with questions, and additionally, they have created a step-by-step guide and video that is available on their district Facebook page and website.

“The online registration system is a paperless registration and designed to be a contact-free process for registering pre-k through twelve students. For returning students, the online registration system will allow parents to update student demographics, emergency contact information, and access permissions and policies online. For new students, the online registration system will allow parents to upload documents directly from their home computer, or take a screenshot on their smartphone without the hassle of making copies to send to the student’s school,” said Rowland.

He went on to say that there is still an option for a parent or guardian to get help with registration at the school itself, but would encourage most to use the online registration in order to reduce the amount of face to face contact that needs to be made.

“Let’s say that we have someone that’s new to our district, or maybe someone that’s not, but they don’t feel comfortable about this, didn’t know about this, or whatever the situation may be. They can still go to their child’s school, and they will seek help and guidance there on how to get their child registered,” said Rowland.

“We understand that’s going to happen, and our principals, administrative teams, and secretaries will be given this guidance, so that’s still an option for people, but we are encouraging, to keep down on the face to face, to have a touchless process. We are encouraging as many people as possible to participate in our online registration. 

Academic Scheduling

The starkest difference that many students and parents may notice upon returning to school in the fall is that of the different scheduling that may be taking place. In Phase 1, all learning will be distance learning, in Phase 2, it will be a Hybrid A/B Schedule, and in Phase 3 school will look more traditional, just with stricter adherence to recent health guidelines such as social distancing, mask-wearing, etc.

“In Phase 2, the schedule that will be incorporated is a Hybrid A/B Schedule. Our students will be taken, and you will have one group of students identified as Group A, and one group of students identified as Group B. Group A students will attend physically to the brick and mortars school on Monday and Wednesday. Group B students will attend physically at the brick and mortar school on Tuesday and Thursday,” explained Rowland.

“While Group A is at school learning, Group B will be at home participating in what we call at-home learning.”

He also stated that Fridays will be an at-home learning day for all students. No new material will be presented, rather, it will be a time when teachers can have one on one sessions with their students, work can be caught up on, and teachers can have a chance to assess and see where they are with their individual classrooms and individual students. 

Addressing the concerns of students without internet connectivity at their home, Rowland stated that all students, regardless of that fact, would be given Chromebooks, which can have their class materials uploaded to them at school, or from a USB drive. Understanding that certain students may have unique circumstances, Rowland stated that the School Board and the schools themselves are going to be flexible and do their best to meet the individual needs of the Webster Parish School System’s students when it comes to enriching their virtual learning experience. 

“We are aware that not all of our students have internet access. We are working diligently to come up with sound plans to address students in those situations. We will be looking at individual cases or situations case by case to see what can be one to enhance that,” said Rowland.

Webster Parish Tech Connect

This year, parents will have the option to enroll their child in a 100% Virtual school year called Webster Parish Tech Connect. “That is a virtual option that parents and students can choose if that’s what they decide to do. It’s just like we said, it is a 100% virtual learning option for our students. We want everyone to know that it is important to us that those students who participate in the virtual learning option have as close to an academic experience through the virtual learning component as you do in the brick and mortar. We know it can never be the same, but we are passionate about trying to make it as beneficial as well can,” said Rowland.

For those who are worried about having to stick to their choice for the entire school year, Rowland stated that students will be able to switch from 100% virtual to the school’s current schedule or vice versa. There will be windows of time, probably at the end of every nine weeks, where you can declare what you would like to do.

The teacher will provide live instruction, support, monitor student progress, monitor attendance, enforce competition. Not only will core subject areas be addressed, but non-core curriculum will also be assigned as well.

While answering the question of, In the virtual learning experience, will my child be expected to maintain certain class hours, Rowland explained, “We’ve decided to be more flexible in our approach upon realizing during this time of uncertainty that it would be hard to mandate that. We’re going to be flexible with you, but we expect you to adhere to the expectations that we have for you during the case. But we would never tell a student of hours that you can’t go on at 7:30 at night and complete your work.”

Rowland also made sure to let the parents of students with disabilities know that they will have the same options of how to attend school this fall as other students, and that they will continue to provide the same support that they began providing back in the spring when the pandemic initially began.

“I would like to address our students with disabilities, what will be afforded to them. I’m very proud of what our special education staff has done during this pandemic and what they will continue to do. Services will be provided for all of our students with exceptionalities,” said Rowland.

“Our special education staff began providing virtual services back in spring and will continue as they are needed through google classroom and through google meets.”

Rowland also took the time to thank those that have contributed to this plan and to those that have worked tirelessly during the pandemic for what they contributed to the school system.

“I would like to thank the Webster Parish School Board for their support. I would like to thank them for the policies that they have put in place, i would like to thank them for the support that they show publicly for their students and employees, and I would also like to thank them for many of the private conversations that I’ve had with many of them, showing support for what we’re trying to do,” said Rowland.

“I would like to thank Assistant Superintendent Kevin Washington. I would like to thank him for the leadership that he has displayed during this time. I would like to thank the entire supervisory staff, of whom many make up our academic planning committee, for that came together to have individual parts of our plan. I would like to thank our principals and their administrative teams, they have worked and are currently working, and will continue to work hours upon hours upon hours getting to receive our students here in a mere few weeks. 

I would like to thank the hundreds of teachers and support staff that have given so much, going all the way back to March, through feeding programs, mentoring programs. Teachers were working on their own volunteering to become better virtual school instructors. I would like to thank Brian Williams with homeland security and OSEP for working with us to provide PPE and meeting other sanitation needs during this time. And finally, I would like to thank you, the parents and the guardians out there, for being so patient, for being so kind in so many ways, and letting us know that you’re behind us and willing to work with us, we greatly appreciate it.”

“We are a strong resilient community here in Webster Parish. I believe if we continue to work together, to collaborate, and work towards the common good, that even though we are in the midst of a pandemic, some good things can be on the horizon for us.”