From the first moment West Jefferson High School Principal Vanessa Brown-Lewis welcomes students back to campus Aug. 26, the process will look much different than any in her nine years leading the school.
Casting aside years of security-driven practice, students won’t all come in through one entrance, for one thing. There are now four entrances to the Harvey campus, called zones. Once they get off the bus, students will have their temperatures checked before they are allowed into a zone, and they will be moved quickly to their first classroom.
Along the way, they will see signs in English and Spanish urging them to remain six feet apart, keep their masks on and stay to the right of walkways. Signs on the bathroom door announce how many students can be inside at a time and desks in classrooms are marked with tape to make sure the students know where they can sit.
The changes are, of course, aimed at preventing the transmission of coronavirus. As schools continue to reopen for the new academic year, Brown-Lewis and others have been developing procedures for social distancing, virtual learning and a host of other protocols necessary for what has become the new normal.
“My cafeteria seats 25,” Brown-Lewis noted during a tour of the school Wednesday.
Normally, the cafeteria could hold around 300 kids, she said. Teachers will be positioned at the two entrances, only permitting a certain number of students inside at one time. Other tables are set up outside, and there will be tents for some tables.
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In classrooms, the strips of tape on desks mark where students will be allowed to sit, and students will have to wipe down the desk after each use. The next class will use desks with a different color tape.
The West Jefferson High campus was opened to a media tour Wednesday, one week before the Jefferson Parish public school district welcomes more than 30,000 students back to it’s more than 80 campuses. Another 18,000 students have opted for a fully-online education.
Students in lower grades will attend class five days per week, but students in grades 6-12 will be on campus only two days per week, with online learning the other days. The online component will help with social distancing. For instance, at West Jeff, which normally has 1,600 students on campus, there should only be about 600 per day, Brown-Lewis said.
But it creates other problems. The school system has only received about 2,800 of the 32,000 computers it ordered in the spring to distribute to students, Superintendent James Gray said Wednesday. Schools are also working with Cox Communications to get hotspots and cheap broadband access, he said.
“Our goal is to have a device for every K-12 student, but that will not happen on August 26,” he said. “We are prioritizing distribution of computers to virtual learners and hybrid students with the greatest needs.”
Distribution of other safety supplies is well under way, he said.
Some 3,500 gallons of hand sanitizer have been delivered to schools and every teacher will start the year with a gallon that will be replenished as needed. Face shields for teachers are also being distributed, he said. Symptomatic teachers will also have access to rapid coronavirus testing, he said.
Gray acknowledged that the system will have to be flexible and ready to change course quickly.
“We have to be prepared for closures on a moment’s notice,” he said. “There’s no script for COVID-19.”
Gray said decisions on shutting down classrooms, wings or schools would be made on a case-by-case basis.
Jefferson Parish will be the first large district in the New Orleans area to bring students back to campus. The other two large districts: Orleans and St. Tammany, have both opted to push back the start of on-campus school until after Labor Day.
Schools have opened in St. Bernard and St. Charles parishes, as have some private and Catholic schools.
A day after Jefferson Parish public school officials announced a two-week delay for the start of school, parents and educators scrambled Tuesd…