As students return to Acadiana campuses Tuesday, district leaders in several parishes are strongly encouraging children to wear masks at schools. St. Landry Parish is requiring the use of face coverings.
"Masks/face coverings will be required for all community members, students and staff in all SLPSS facilities when they return in January 2022," reads a message from Superintendent Patrick Jenkins, which also states that they also are expected to continue to mask on school buses and at school-related activities.
The St. Landry Parish School Board is expected to discuss these and other COVID protocols at its regular meeting Thursday, and they aren't the only ones having these talks.
"Based on the most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and newly issued recommendations from the Louisiana Department of Health, LPSS staff is carefully reviewing our protocols and mitigation measures to increase the likelihood of students remaining in school settings for in-person learning," reads a Lafayette Parish School System letter to parents. "We know that in-person instruction is best for students academically, socially and emotionally."
Staffing could be a challenge as schools reopen for students Tuesday, according to a release from LPSS Public Information Officer Allison Dickerson.
"Parents should have contingency plans in place in the event that a class or school closes temporarily, or bus routes are canceled because of staff being quarantined due to COVID-19," reads the release. "With the recent surge in cases, we are asking parents, students and staff to be vigilant with safety mitigation measures."
Such measures include cautiously quarantining and masking, which is being strongly encouraged at this time at Lafayette and Vermilion schools.
"With more individuals becoming infected, it is important that we all do our part to reduce the spread of this virus to the greatest extent possible, and that we work together during this time to provide high-quality education in a safe environment," reads the LPSS message. "It remains important that you keep your child home if he/she is sick."
Louisiana reported 31,161 new positive cases of the virus and 15 new deaths Thursday, according to the LDH COVID-19 Data Dashboard. About 1,400 of these cases were in the eight-parish Acadiana region.
"It is crucial that schools serve as safe and healthy learning environments, which can only be accomplished through the conscientious fulfillment of all public health recommendations including mask wearing, social distancing and vaccination," reads a letter to families in the St. Mary Parish School System.
New guidance for quarantining
The Lafayette school system issued the following quarantine guidance for students and staff from the Louisiana Department of Health and CDC.
Those who test positive for the virus are to isolate at home for five days regardless of vaccination status. They can leave home after five days if they have no symptoms or if symptoms have resolved. Those with a fever should continue to stay home until it breaks.
The guidance calls for all positive cases, regardless of vaccination status, to continue to wear a mask around other for five more days. If schools cannot ensure masking, then the positive cases should isolate for a full 10 days, according to LDH.
Quarantine guidance for those exposed to someone with COVID-19 depends on vaccination status and whether they are staff or students.
Students who have completed the primary series of an mRNA vaccine are to wear a mask around others for 10 days and test on day five, if possible.
The same goes for staff who have completed the primary series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine within the past 6 months, have completed the primary series of J&J vaccine within the past two months, or have been boosted, according to LDH.
Students who are unvaccinated are to stay home for five days and to continue to wear a mask around others for five additional days. If school cannot ensure masking for five additional days, then they should quarantine for a full 10 days.
The same guidance follows for staff who are unvaccinated, have completed the primary series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine more than six months ago and are not boosted, or have completed the primary series of J&J over two months ago and are not boosted.
'Revisiting' protocols in Vermilion Parish
Vermilion Parish School System employees were "revisiting" protocols during an in-service Monday and discussing "any changes that we feel can be made to help the situation," Superintendent Tommy Byler said in a letter to parents Friday.
"Because of the timing on all of this, I feel like this is the best way for us to revisit our protocols and do our part in helping to continue keeping our schools open," Byler said.
Also on the table to be discussed was new quarantine guidance in which masks will be mandated in an effort to get students back to school in a more timely manner, with "complete guidance" available Tuesday, he said.
"Because of the recent COVID surge, new guidelines from the Louisiana Department of Health, and quarantine changes from the CDC, we feel it is in the best interest of our school system and our students that we take time for our employees and our schools to revisit all of the processes that we have put in place to help slow the current pace of the COVID spread," Byler said.
"At this time, I feel like we need to put everything that we can back in place in our schools to help ensure that the majority of our students are being educated in school as often as possible."
That includes wearing masks, which will not be mandated but is highly encouraged.
"We will not let any minor setbacks slow our progress of educating our students, but we have to be ready for anything that is thrown our way," Byler said.
Contact children's issues reporter Leigh Guidry at Lguidry@theadvertiser.com or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: New quarantine guidelines cause Acadiana schools to review mask rules