Report from Louisiana: Week One – Done

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Schools across the country are opening up, some all virtual, some all in-person, and some a hybrid mix A/B schedule. School districts are making decisions about transparency and how much information to share with the public with regard to Covid exposures and outbreaks. These policies differ from district to district.

When making decisions about exposure transparency several factors seem to be at play. First to consider is patient privacy, of course. Some districts are interested in image and in containing community panic. Others are wide open and are making weekly disclosure announcements.

In exploring this same topic last week, The New York Times spoke with Dr. Ashish Jha, of the Harvard Global Health Institute, who said “If schools don’t notify, it actually can make disease control more difficult. And it’s not like no one will know. Word will get out through a rumor mill. You don’t scare people by telling them what’s going on. You scare them by hiding information.”

Personally, I think communities should be informed, but I do see the problem if it is a very small community where patient identity would be obvious.

Most districts are choosing to notify only close contacts who might need to quarantine, and the rumor mill is taking care of the rest. This is a poor system.

I teach high school, and we had four days of inservice and training of the new programs that will support virtual learning, and then we had students for two days so far on an A/B hybrid schedule. We get half of our students on an A day and the other half on the B day, then they alternate Fridays.  This is my twenty-fifth year to teach high school, and it was the first year that I felt sad at the end of the day. There were no hugs, no high-fives, and no smiles that I could see because everyone was wearing a mask.

Many people were so anxious for schools to open so we could “get back to normal,” but let me tell you, this is in no way normal. When the bus drops kids off they go straight to a homeroom, or to the cafeteria to pick up a grab and go breakfast in a big Ziploc bag, then they go to homeroom. Everyone sits in homeroom until the first bell at 7:25. We are six feet apart, and there are no more than ten kids in any classroom at one time.

Same procedure for lunch.  The kids never go outside, and can’t let loose and relax much at lunch, because they are sitting six feet apart in a desk.

This is not normal.

Classes aren’t even normal. There are no group projects – we have to sit in straight rows all facing the front. Some elementary teachers have spent their own money to build plexiglass partitions and cubicles for students to avoid the rows.

The halls are quiet because you can’t stop and socialize – six feet apart.

It’s just very surreal and dystopian and it made me sad.

My colleagues and I are trying as hard as we can to find solutions, to break the monotony, to be engaging. To make them laugh, to feel safe, to feel welcome.

But this is not normal school. It still is better than 100% virtual for some students, that is certain. There is still bound to be a little bit of social stimulation here.

But outbreaks and exposures are already happening. I personally know of several in quarantine after only two days. I take precautions – I’ve bought a HEPA air purifier for my classroom (out of my own pocket.) We wipe down Chromebooks between each student, and desks, all day long. At the end of the day the custodians come in with foggers to kill any lingering virus. We have to exit our classrooms right after the students leave, so no more long afternoons at my desk catching up on grading. When I come home, I leave my shoes outside, change and shower immediately. The clothes go straight into the washer.

Meanwhile, a large part of the general public tells us teachers to quit whining, that grocery clerks, medical personnel, and other frontline workers have been working since March. Suck it up. I’m in my classroom from 9:05 – 2:15 with kids, with no personal break. None. I’m eating breakfast and lunch with them. (First block is my planning block, so after breakfast in have 90 minutes to take care of things prepping for the day). Cleaning. Sanitizing. Worrying – did I miss something?

I’m already exhausted, and I can’t imagine how my kids feel.

And if that’s not enough on anyone’s plate, here in Louisiana we have two hurricanes rolling in this week. TWO. IN THE SAME WEEK.

 I mean, really. Stop, already.

I’m not having a pity party, I promise. I love my job, and I love my school and my students, but I worry – this is not normal school. And if parents thought that’s what they were getting, it’s just not. Basically, they are getting virtual school, in person.  And they may or may not be notified if there is an exposure in their child’s school.

Even with all that, the kids really do seem happy to be back! And I’ll do everything in my power to keep it that way.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

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