Report from Louisiana: Opening School

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – We are about five weeks from opening school in Louisiana, and teachers are beginning to get anxious. Certainly parents and students are as well, but teachers are natural planners and we like to know the lay of the land with as much advance notice as possible.

Districts across the nation have started releasing tentative plans, but we all know that could change on a dime. Most look like hybrid plans – part virtual school, part in-person. There are also all-virtual options for parents who don’t feel comfortable sending their kids back to school just yet.

I see a lot of concern about masks; both teachers and students are generally going to be expected to wear masks to school. I see lots of concern about social distancing, about number of students in a classroom, and about spacing kids out on the bus.

What I don’t see a lot of is concern for the teacher. In discussion threads I’ve been reading, many parents can’t wait to get their kids back to school, for a variety of reasons, and many seem comfortable that their kids will be safe. After all, it’s older folks who are mostly catching COVID-19, not young kids. We haven’t seen a lot of outbreaks in day care centers, I’m told.

Teachers across the country have a great deal of anxiety about returning to the classroom. There are a great many teachers near retirement age, or that are currently eligible to retire but just haven’t wanted to. These are the teachers expressing the most concern right now; many of us are caring for elderly family members or are in an at-risk group ourselves. Some of us live with immunocompromised people. So yes, we are invested in being certain that school opens safely.

From ABC News:

Some teachers around the country say they are nervous about returning because of underlying health conditions or concerns about infecting family members. Others say they are frustrated by the lack of clear guidance from officials about what’s safe. And for some, it’s about child care if their own kids are only back at school for a handful of days during the week.

The result is an inevitable clash between leaders pushing aggressive reopening policies in states like Texas and Florida and teachers, some of whom say local officials need to think more about what they are asking teachers to do.

There is so much conflicting information, it is difficult to believe anything or to truly know what is safe and what isn’t. After months of social distancing and stay at home orders, how can we just return to school with any degree of certainty that things will be safe?

Overall, a combined 54 percent of American voters said they are somewhat uncomfortable or very uncomfortable with reopening K-12 schools for the beginning of the coming school year, according to the latest POLITICO/Morning Consult poll that assessed the nation’s mood about students returning to day cares and schools shut down by the pandemic.

Some districts are offering either virtual learning or in-person learning that “almost totally” disregards CDC guidelines because social distancing won’t be possible and students might not be wearing masks, said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of a school superintendents association.

“A lot of states along the Southern belt are just planning to move ahead with, all students, all come, and to me, that is going to be a horror,” he said.

And on the issue of masks, many school districts are recommending them but can’t mandate them unless they supply them. Or can they? How is it different than a mandated dress code? And what if a student refuses? What about students with asthma or other concerns?

So many unknowns.

And yes, we still have a few weeks. Things can change very quickly as we all know.

But I worry.

I worry about bring this virus into my home. I worry about getting sick, myself. I worry about exposing so many more people to the virus by opening schools and all that brings.  So many surfaces to clean! Where will all those Lysol wipes come from!? This is certainly a logistical nightmare for district decision-makers on so many levels.

What are your thoughts on the new school year? Would you be comfortable sending your kids into a public school in five weeks?

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.

Report from Louisiana: Protests

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Are people protesting where you live?  I know many cities across the nation are dealing with protests, some peaceful, some not so much.

In Shreveport, there have been protests and marches every weekend since the George Floyd incident exploded in the media. The focus of the protest this weekend seemed to center around the Confederate monument which stands in front of the courthouse. This is not news. The monument has been in litigation between the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the parish administration for years now. There is, in fact, another court date tomorrow. The protesters are angry that the monument is still there and want to see it moved to another location. Plenty of them want it simply destroyed.

I have not seen my city more racially divided since 1988 when riots erupted across Shreveport which drew national attention at the time.

Protesters gathered on the courthouse lawn Saturday and paced back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse bearing large, heavy guns.  Counter-protesters in support of the monument gathered on the sidewalk across the street, also heavily armed. No weapons are allowed on courthouse grounds, of course, and so those with the weapons stayed on the sidewalk while others took turns taking the microphone to speak or share their latest musical endeavor. Club music played over the PA between speakers. For the most part, it was a peaceful demonstration although there were reportedly a couple of arrests and verbal altercations between the two sides.

As photographs of the day, and live video streaming, began to filter onto social media, people expressed outrage and concern at the large number of heavy weapons on both sides.

One car backfire on Texas Street could have turned the whole thing into a very ugly scene.

On the other hand, Louisiana is an open carry state and so as long as your AR15 is visible, it’s just fine to carry it around in public.

The BLM group has vowed to be on the courthouse lawn every Saturday until the monument is removed. As long as they have a permit, they have the right to do this.

All eyes right now will be on the court action tomorrow. The case on the Confederate monument has been in litigation for years, even up to the US Supreme Court (which declined to hear the case); the UDC and the parish are currently using different legal angles and paths to continue fighting in the courts.

Both sides of the issue vow to be in the courtroom tomorrow – this time without the weaponry.

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.

Report from Louisiana: More Protests

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Everyone is talking about statues again, and not just Confederate ones.

Now the Theodore Roosevelt statue will be removed from the Museum of Natural History:

The bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt, on horseback and flanked by a Native American man and an African man, which has presided over the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History in New York since 1940, is coming down.

The decision, proposed by the museum and agreed to by New York City, which owns the building and property, came after years of objections from activists and at a time when the killing of George Floyd has initiated an urgent nationwide conversation about racism.

For many, the equestrian statue at the museum’s Central Park West entrance has come to symbolize a painful legacy of colonial expansion and racial discrimination.

This is becoming epidemic.

They aren’t stopping at just monuments. At LSU in Baton Rouge, the Middleton Library is being renamed, and Troy Middleton’s name removed from the exterior of the building after a dig through archives determined Middleton held segregationist views in the 1950s.

Lee High School is Baton Rouge is going to be renamed. The school board member who opposed the motion is being targeted as a racist.

Activist Gary Chambers is also calling for street names with Confederate names to be changed:

Chambers, who is publisher of The Rouge Collection, also repeated his call that streets near Lee High, several of them named after Confederate generals, be renamed. “There’s even a street named Whitehaven,” he said.

One of the groups behind the removal of the Confederate monuments in New Orleans, Take ‘Em Down NOLA, has a list of sites they want renamed which they published in 2017. Their website now also calls for abolishing the police:

In this moment of global reconciliation with age old truths around systemic racism, Take Em Down NOLA demands that the city government finally begin the real work of reckoning with the WHOLE truth of white supremacy in New Orleans. They can start with the immediate removal of ALL symbols to white supremacy, including those that represent figures both before and after the Civil War. And they can move further by taking steps towards the abolition of the NOPD by DEFUNDING them (as they currently expropriate some two-thirds of taxpayers’ money) and PROACTIVELY reallocating those funds to children and families and the development of jobs that pay a LIVING wage. Minimum wage has never been sufficient, and it certainly isn’t now. 

There is apparently no compromise and no room for discussion with radical extreme points of view – from either direction.

In Shreveport this past weekend, we have seen one demonstration after another; they have been peaceful, but have not been without conflict. Shreveport’s Confederate monument is still standing in front of the courthouse; the monument stands within a fence on a tiny parcel of land owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy – although this is still in litigation. During the protest this weekend, one of the participants climbed over the iron fence with a sledgehammer and posed for photos with the caption “Move it or Lose It!” 

No harm was actually done, but the threat was made, and the person was trespassing on private property. Whether that land is actually owned by the UDC or not, the monument certainly is, and so: trespassing.

The Dallas, Texas Confederate monument is being dismantled as I type this.

At any rate, there is no end to this, and when all the monuments are gone, when all the school names and street names have been changed, when every single symbol is erased, will people then stop having racial bias? Will that do it?

When does it end? What does it take?

I don’t think anyone has the answer to that.

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.

Report from Louisiana: Into the Mighty Mississippi

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – The issue of monuments persists.

John Ruberry asked in this space, “Where does it all end?”  I’ve been asking myself this question for several years now as we fight in Shreveport to save our Confederate monument. Perceived symbolism aside, our monument is a beautiful work of sculpture in its own right, and fairly unique among other Confederate monuments.

The unhinged left continues to destroy and deface monuments and it seems that logic and reason has gone further and further out the window. All that matters now is that the target is a monument, never mind what it stands for.

In New Orleans this weekend, protesters attacked a bust of John McDonough (1779-1850) in front of City Hall. Armed with a chisel and a skateboard, they tore the bust off its pedestal and tossed it into the Mississippi River:

A group of protesters used a chisel, rope and a skateboard to tear down the bust of John McDonough in Duncan Plaza, doused it in brightly colored paint and rolled it into the Mississippi River on Saturday.

The New Orleans Police Department said at 5:30 p.m. that two people who drove the bust to Jax Brewery to dump it in the river were “apprehended and transported to NOPD headquarters.” Protesters began gathering at the jail near Tulane Avenue and South Broad Street known as the Orleans Justice Center and there were roughly 200 there by 7 p.m.

Their grievance seems to be that McDonough owned slaves.

While McDonough wasn’t a saint, he did leave his fortune to Baltimore and New Orleans for the purpose of forming schools for poor black and white children.

Two of those who attacked the monument have been arrested.

In Kentucky, armed residents formed a line of protection around their Confederate monument against potential attackers.

Nancy Pelosi has called for the removal of eleven statues from Statuary Hall at the Capitol Building. While her letter does no specify which eleven statues, she does specifically mention Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens who served as President and Vice-President of the Confederacy.

Louisiana’s two statues there include Huey P. Long and Edward Douglas White. White was a U.S. Senator and a Chief Justice of the United States, but he also served as a soldier in the Confederacy. Is she targeting this statue as well? It’s not clear.

But again, you see the problem? Where does this end? We can remove monuments, relocate statues, throw busts into the Mississippi, but where does it end? Who gets to decide which ones go? Under whose sensibilities are we all to live? Whose rights take precedence over any others?

Honestly it makes me crazy. I want to wash my hands of all of it and live on a houseboat in the Atchafalaya Basin.

We need to find our way back to reason and learn to get along. Mind our own business. Find a balance. Enough.

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.

Report from Louisiana: Six Feet

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – It does seem like COVID-19 is on the back burner now; with the riots and the protests, nobody is really worried about catching a virus anymore. That whole thing about “groups smaller than ten” and “groups smaller than fifty” sort of vanished.

Here, in Shreveport, we have seen several protests downtown, but they have been peaceful. Saturday, hundreds, maybe over a thousand people, marched through downtown while at the same time the ladies from the United Daughters of the Confederacy held their annual observation of Confederate Memorial Day at the Confederate monument in front of the courthouse. No words were exchanged at all, just everyone practicing their own Constitutional rights.

From a “man on the street” level, it seems that people are just “over” this virus business. Very few of the protesters wore masks and they were by far closer than six feet from each other.

Meanwhile, Governor John Bel Edwards (D) is doing his best to keep his thumb on his people. His restrictions for Phase Two reopening have raised a few eyebrows.

While he has allowed restaurants to reopen, for example, they have moved from 25% occupancy in Phase One to 50% occupancy in Phase Two. Live music is not authorized and dancing is forbidden. (But protests with hundreds of people are okay).

Casinos can reopen, although one of our casinos closed for good during the quarantine. Employees must wear masks but patrons don’t have to. What? One of our casinos has already reported a small Covid outbreak among employees.

Swimming pools can reopen as long as people remain six feet apart.

Apparently the only place that six feet apart rule does not apply is a mass protest in city streets.

There is no guidance whatsoever on the opening of school in August at this time. It is as if nobody needs to make plans or adjustments for this kind of thing. While the CDC has released some initial guidelines for schools, it is unclear whether this applies to schools currently open or if those guidelines are meant for schools opening in the fall. Either way, the guidelines are ridiculously impossible for the most part.

One of those guidelines includes students keeping six feet apart from each other in class and in hallways, which should all be one direction only.

I fail to see the logic in any of it.

If we are so worried about keeping people protected, how are we condoning these protests where all rules, ALL rules, are excluded?

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.

Report from Louisiana: Phase 2

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is expecting news today from Governor John Bel Edwards regarding moving into Phase 2 and reopening the state.

Whatever else this pandemic has been, it has certainly been the cause for many businesses and restaurants to close permanently. Maybe they were already on the brink of closure and Covid just pushed them over the edge—I don’t know. It seems now that people are just “over it.” I’m seeing fewer people wearing masks than I did a week or two ago. The rioters and looters on my television aren’t wearing masks, either, for the most part.

Louisiana State University has released their plans for reopening the college for the fall semester; plans include social distancing, increased sanitation measures, and random testing of the campus population:

Random testing between 10 and 16 percent of the populations of all LSU System campuses statewide for COVID-19 this fall. Participants would be selected randomly from lists of students and employees, and those selected would be encouraged to participate in the testing, although, not required. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 would be interviewed in an effort to determine who they have been with recently so that accurate contact tracing can be achieved. Every effort would be made to locate and test anyone believed to have been exposed. The goal of this plan is to determine the incidence of the virus on LSU’s campuses and to locate and mitigate any possible clusters of the virus.

The public school system in which I work has not yet released any specific plans, but the discussions sound much like everything else with social distancing and increased sanitation. I’m having a hard time envisioning my 15 and 16 year old students practicing social distancing in the hallways and the very small classrooms. On our campus there is just not a lot of room to spread out classes to keep kids six feet apart or have smaller classes.

Will they have to wear masks? Will I have to teach theme, symbolism, and literary analysis through a mask?

It is hard to imagine.

I have seen discussion in neighborhood social media groups with parents who will opt to home school rather than send kids back to “an environment of fear.” So be it.  That, too, will be interesting to monitor. For example, mine is a Title 1 school in a high poverty neighborhood and not many parents are interested in home schooling their kids. That is not to say none will or that all of our kids are in poverty; that’s not the case. There is a high percentage that are and many struggle just to have regular meals.

The virus numbers do seem to be leveling off, but our challenges are not.

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.

Report from Louisiana: Closing the Classroom

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I went up to do my end-of-the-year cleanout in my classroom this week.  It was incredibly sad.

On a Friday morning at 10:30, second block should have been winding to a close and kids should have been anxiously waiting for the lunch bell at 10:40. The mid-day announcements would be coming over the intercom.

By the time I left, about 11:00, there should have been kids in the halls, duty teachers monitoring those kids, microwaves across campus warming up teacher lunches. The office should have been bustling, Mrs. Kiper, the secretary, laughing and lobbing wise cracks with kids and administrators. The library should have been filled with kids using the computers or playing board games at the tables. The courtyard should have been filled with kids burning off a little energy before third block. Teachers should have been making that last dash to the restroom before the long afternoon classes start.

None of that was happening.

The parking lot was empty.

There were ZERO students on campus.  My room was quiet as a tomb.

My room would have normally had a couple of kids in there eating lunch about that time of the day.

Instead, I found empty desks, library books abandoned in the baskets underneath.

I sighed, looked around, and went to get my things that I needed to work from home.

I missed the sound of kids, and the notes they would leave for me if they came by while I was out.

Every single kid was important to me, is important to me, and it just feels like we didn’t get to finish what we started. It feels tragic and sad…unfinished.

Their journals were still on my desk, graded, ready to return.

We left school on the Friday before Spring Break: March 6. My assignments from that day are still written on the board.

We all expected to come back to school when we left that day. Kids took library books home, textbooks, projects to finish, uniforms to wash, schedules to fill out for next year, and plans. They had plans for their graduation, prom, ring ceremonies, sporting events, and yes, academics. None of that happened.

So yes, all of that literally hangs in the air when you walk in the halls now. It’s a tangible thing.

I cleaned out the snacks I kept in my desk for kids that needed something to eat; that won’t keep until August. I took home my coffee cup, emptied the water in the Keurig. I looked through projects that weren’t finished, some that were, and I scored a bottle of GermX from my supply closet. I erased my board, bagged up things I needed to take home, and I turned out the light.

I am very curious, and perhaps nervous, about what school will look like when we return in August. While the Moderna coronavirus vaccine shows some early promise, there is still a long way to go before we have that option. A larger trial is expected this summer, but obviously won’t be ready before fall.

So, what will opening of school look like this fall? Smaller classes?  Online options? The typical high school classroom is not overly large and is usually filled with thirty or more students. Crowded lunchrooms, auditoriums, and even at university level, think of the crowded lecture halls. How are we going to manage these things?

Schools in Denmark opened several weeks ago with new distancing and hygiene measures in place and restrictions all across Europe are easing. Things such as staggered classes, sectioning off parts of campus, and no large gatherings are all options to consider. What of transportation? School busses filled with kids could also be a danger zone.

What are we to do? Hide from this virus? Wait for a vaccine? Or ignore it and get back to life as usual?

I don’t have the answers. All I know for certain is my own little world, my own small classroom, where sixty-five kids were upended in the middle of their academic year.

So much unfinished business.

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.

Report from Louisiana: Contact tracing the new normal?

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I was quite interested to read John Ruberry’s post on this blog this weekend in which he discusses the impact of Covid-19 in Illinois under the leadership of Governor J.B. Pritzker.  It all sounds so very familiar.

In Louisiana, we are waiting once again for Governor John Bel Edwards to move Louisiana to Phase One and reopen businesses. We expected this announcement two weeks ago, but Edwards surprised us all by extending our stay at home order until May 16, infuriating business owners, citizens, and a large number of Republican lawmakers.

As of last week, Louisiana’s unemployment rate was around 22%.

One of the components for reopening the state that Edwards will discuss today will be Contact Tracing.  Right now, Louisiana has 70 people trained for contact tracing which does NOT meet suggested guidelines, but Edwards plans to hire hundreds more.

Many are obviously suspicious about the concept of contact tracing and what information will be gathered, not to mention who will be gathering it. According to Governor Edwards:

The state’s plan considers people who have been in close contact with someone if they are:

Household members of the person who tested positive.

Intimate partners of the person who tested positive.

People who have provided care to you in the household or outside.

Anyone who has been in close contact – that is defined as someone who has been within six feet or closer for a time period greater than 15 minutes.

In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell is taking this a step further by requiring shopkeepers to keep records of everyone who shops, or comes into, their stores.

It is all very “Big Brother” and many are suspicious of giving information to a contact tracer. One new contact tracer described her first day this way:

Some people are a little suspicious. Some people hang up after I ask for their date of birth and address. I understand that, the mistrust of the government, having grown up under communism. But it’s too bad. I feel like they can benefit from this information: how to quarantine themselves, how they can protect their families, and what kind of support is available. Probably 50%, maybe 60%, of the contacts that I call on my shift don’t answer. Some don’t have voicemail set up. But I leave a message when I can, and several people called me back yesterday.

NPR details how contact tracing works and how it has been used in other countries:

The idea behind this public health strategy is simple: Keep the virus in check by having teams of public health workers — epidemiologists, nurses, trained citizens — identify each new positive case, track down their contacts and help both the sick person and those who were exposed isolate themselves.

This is the strategy that’s been proven to work in other countries, including China, South Korea, and Germany. For it to work in the U.S., states and local communities will need ample testing and they’ll need to expand their public health workforce. By a lot.

And while Google and Apple would love to jump in and get a piece of this governmental financial pie, high tech is not really what works in this case:

It’s not super complicated to understand why technologists are having a hard time getting traction. Traditional contact tracing has been honed over decades of response to disease outbreaks. Officials ask patients where they’ve been and whom they’ve been near; they then suggest those people get tested for the disease and make sure they quarantine, if necessary. Quickly identifying and segregating people carrying the virus can slow the spread of a communicable disease. “It works by building a human bond between two people,” the patient and the contact tracer, says Tom Frieden, the former head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York City Department of of Health and Mental Hygiene. “It means actually talking to someone and answering their questions, addressing their needs and concerns, and building, earning, and maintaining their trust and confidentiality.”

Contact tracing is not a new concept and has been used widely in many other outbreaks, but perhaps never to this extent.

At this point, we are all ready to get back to normal, or new normal, whatever that is. We broke out of quarantine as soon as Texas opened their border to Louisiana again and went to eat in a restaurant. We had to wait outside (in a crowd) for an hour to get in because they can only operate at 25% capacity. There were no salt or pepper shakers on the tables, nothing that has to be repeatedly sanitized. Menus are all paper and disposable. There were a lot of obvious changes.

The new normal will include a lot of changes that make us uncomfortable and perhaps suspicious. But by and large, America is ready to go back to work.

Let’s do this.

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.

Report from Louisiana: Reopening Discontent

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – We broke quarantine yesterday and crossed the border into Texas.  With Louisiana still shut down and under stay-at-home orders for another two weeks, Texas looks pretty good right now.

For weeks the border has been closed to Louisiana residents, but now that has been lifted and Texas shops and restaurants are open, so we headed west.

We headed to Jefferson, Texas, a small, historic town in East Texas. Residents of Marion County supported Trump heavily in the last presidential election with a 71% strong vote over Hilary Clinton (27%).  Many of the people there are thrilled to see Louisiana customers back in Jefferson; the town has a quaint historic district filled with antique shops, specialty fudge shops, and eateries that have suffered financially since the closure. There are a couple of old, historic hotels and at less than an hour away from Shreveport, Jefferson is a popular day trip destination. People in Louisiana spend a lot of tourist dollars in Jefferson, so opening the state back up to travelers was a welcome move. They have been hit hard by the COVID closure.

Shopkeepers, bartenders, servers, residents, literally everyone we talked to, was thrilled that the state is open and people are coming back to spend money and browse the shops. We talked with several people who praised Trump’s COVID response and others who were firmly rooted in the belief that Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is keeping Louisiana closed only for federal dollars.

The rhetoric in Louisiana circles is becoming more and more divided over the Edwards response. As it turns out, his stay-at-home order was very non-specific and would have allowed many businesses to stay open in some capacity, significantly reducing the large numbers of people forced into unemployment. The original stay-at-home order, issued March 22, specifically closed salons, gyms, tattoo shops, among others. Businesses not specified could stay open with restrictions, however that was never clear. As a result, places like Barnes and Noble, Ulta Beauty, sporting goods stores, craft stores, among others, closed when all along they could have stayed open with restrictions.

It has all been very murky and now the discontent is rising:

The catalyst is Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to extend Louisiana’s statewide stay-at-home order through May 15. The Democratic governor said the move is rooted in science and public safety. Republicans are bristling, preferring a parish-by-parish approach to loosening restrictions that have shuttered businesses and forced hundreds of thousands into unemployment.

At stake is “hundreds of millions of federal dollars in disaster aid for businesses and the state.”

Is Edwards playing it safe and only looking out for the health of Louisiana residents? Or is he parlaying the entire situation into a federal dollar windfall for the state? Has he been intentionally vague about his stay at home order? The answers depend on who you ask.

The bottom line is that the longer Louisiana stays closed, and with neighboring states returning to normal, the pressure on Edwards to reopen the state will increase. Louisiana dollars will be spent in the shops, restaurants, and hotels of other states.

Louisiana legislators return to Baton Rouge today, reconvening their session after a COVID hiatus and even the timing of the legislative return has been contentious.

Looks like the new normal in Louisiana is a lot like the old normal.

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.

Report from Louisiana: Education Disparity during Covid Closure

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – One of the issues this pandemic has exposed has been the complete and utter lack of preparedness by education systems for such an event. Granted, nobody could have expected a nationwide shutdown of the economy and stay-at-home orders for weeks on end. But, in Louisiana at least, this is not completely without precedent. When Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, we dealt with extended school closures in specific areas of the state. The difference, of course, as far as education goes at least, is that those displaced students had other school systems still in operation where they could transfer. That is not the case now.

What has emerged is a patchwork of fixes and plans between school systems. Each district is working in different ways to educate their students and there is little uniformity between systems much less within each individual district.

The result is that some students are receiving an education and others are not. The Advocate reports on survey results by the state Department of Education:

Educators said the coronavirus pandemic has exposed a national digital divide that is especially jarring in a state like Louisiana, where about two-thirds of students — nearly 500,000 youngsters — live in low-income households.

When the shutdown order came, the school in which I teach, for example, was winding up Spring Break. We walked out of our classrooms that previous Friday fully expecting to return in ten days. My classroom right now is exactly as I left it on March 6.

School districts across the nation scrambled to enact a plan. Nobody knew how long we would be closed. Students did not leave the campus with textbooks, work packets, or technology.

In a Title I school, like mine, the problems are compounded by the fact that many of our students do not have home computers or Wi-Fi.  But, in another school across town, kids have Wi-Fi, strong parental support, and personal computers.  

What were districts to do? How can you level this field over night?

We did the best we could, I guess. We set up dates where students could come to the school and sign out Chromebooks if they needed technology, but that doesn’t solve the Wi-Fi problem. Some students were given copied work packets. We enacted a “do no harm” policy where students can be graded on the work they turn in, but can’t be given a zero for work they don’t do, and overall a student’s grade can not go down from what it was on March 6.

Is this ideal?  Nope. But what’s the answer?

And how do you prepare for something like this?

Some school districts across the country have set up mobile Wi-Fi hotspots in buses parked in the neighborhoods, but obviously this has not been a uniform practice.

According to the survey:

Officials in the East Baton Rouge Parish school district told the state that 55% of their students lack access to a laptop; Central, 50%; Jefferson Parish, 40%; Livingston Parish, 38%; St. John the Baptist Parish, 65%; West Baton Rouge Parish, 65%; and St. Landry Parish, 60%.

At the other end of the spectrum for students lacking laptops is Ascension Parish, 1%; Lafayette Parish, 20%; Orleans Parish, 20%; St. Bernard Parish , 15%; St. Charles Parish, 5%; Plaquemines Parish, 10% and Zachary, 0%.

The shortage is even worse in rural areas, where five mostly north Louisiana school districts say 75% or more of their students lack access to a laptop or tablet at home.

Governor Edwards is planning to begin to reopen Louisiana for business at the end of the week and will announce his plans during a press conference later today. He has cautioned residents to temper their expectations and notes that this will be a very gradual process.

One of the things we certainly must address in the near future is to develop some kind of emergency plan that does not contribute to the already huge disparities in our education systems. While it’s impossible to prepare for what you don’t know, it is possible, now that we DO know, to create some kind of contingency plan for our students.

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.