Report from Louisiana: Senate 2020

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Early voting is underway in Louisiana and in Shreveport the lines are blocks long waiting to get in. As large a city as Shreveport is, there is only one place to early vote.  What these long lines mean is anyone’s guess.

Last month I wrote in this space about the senatorial race in Louisiana between incumbent Bill Cassidy and newcomer Adrian Perkins; Perkins is currently the mayor of Shreveport, elected in 2018.

Word on the street, and in the polls, is that Perkins doesn’t stand a chance in this election, but what is clear is that his eye is on a bigger prize and Shreveport was never anything but a stepping stone to the next rung on the political ladder.

In my post last month, I outline some of the missteps by Adrian Perkins as mayor of Shreveport; this weekend, Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Tyler Bridges covers much the same ground, outlining his background and political rise. Bridges compares Perkins quick rise to that of former Governor Bobby Jindal. This is not necessarily a good thing. Once full of great promise, Jindal left Louisiana in a fiscal mess.

The Advocate article is interesting to me in who it cites as advocates for Perkins; Mary Landrieu, for one. That’s enough to shut me down right there. His personal narrative is compelling:

As a boy, Perkins said, his mother often worked three jobs to put food on the table for her three sons. Perkins’ father left when he was three but returned when his son was in high school. Perkins said the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks inspired him to join the military. West Point recruited him, Perkins said, because he had top grades, had served as class president every year and was an all-state athlete in the 800 meters. At the military academy, Perkins said he was president of his class all four years, was a conference champion 10 times in track and field races and majored in economics. About 18 months after graduation, he was deployed to Iraq, where he was a platoon leader. During two tours of Afghanistan, he was a company commander with over 200 soldiers. After seven years in the military, Perkins, a captain, left at 28 to enter Harvard Law School. “I had already jumped out of planes and rappelled out of helicopters,” he said. “I wanted to do something intellectually stimulating.”

All well and good but his success in Shreveport during his brief tenure as mayor has been nonexistent. Bridges touches on some of the same scandals I mentioned last month but also points out that Perkins has lost a lot of support. Republican leaders who were willing to work with him have turned their backs on him:

A group of Republican businessmen who helped elect him in 2018 turned against Perkins after he awarded an insurance contract to the first cousin of his campaign manager. The man had no experience in that area of insurance. The businessmen said Perkins had broken his promise not to engage in politics as usual. A city internal audit said the new contract appeared to provide less coverage for more money. Perkins said it was a good deal for the city and added, “We introduced minorities into insurance coverage for the first time in the city’s history. Minorities should have an opportunity, outside of the well connected class.”

From my personal perspective, as a resident of Shreveport, I could in no way support Perkins for any higher office because I don’t believe he has fulfilled his promise for this office. He ran for mayor as someone who wanted to do new, fresh things to better this city, and he has failed miserably. Shreveport is not a large city by many standards – in 2018 we had a population of about 188,000. We are demographically 57% black, 38% white. We have shootings every single day and our murder rate is way up. There is no manufacturing in Shreveport and jobs are primarily service industry jobs. The largest employer in Shreveport is the school system, followed by Willis Knighten hospital system. There is little for families to do here unless you like going to casinos or bars.

All that negativity to say that Perkins has a lot of room in which to improve this city, but has not done so. Given that, I don’t think he will do much better for the state, should he somehow be elected senator. I truly believe this is only an exercise in building name recognition and that Perkins wants to take that same meteoric rise as Barack Obama. Presidential aspirations? Maybe. Higher office than mayor of a dying city? Certainly.

Even after Perkins loses this election, it won’t be the last you hear of him.

Mark my words.

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: Hodgepodge

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Some loose thoughts from Louisiana this morning.

STORMS: Hurricane Delta blew through Acadiana last week, making landfall in the community of Creole, Louisiana in Cameron Parish, less than twenty miles from where Hurricane Laura hit six weeks ago.

When I tell you that people in that part of the state are weary of storms, well, that barely touches how weary they are.

Across Acadiana right now, there are of course trees down all over the place, families are displaced, power is being restored, and linemen are working long, long hours. Overhead video from Lake Charles before Hurricane Delta hit showed a huge percentage of the homes there covered in blue tarps. After Delta, tarps have been blown all over the place, debris piles blown all over the place, and power is out once again across the city. It’s just bedlam.

That being said, communities are pulling together; this is not their first rodeo and they will all rebuild and survive. But please, no more storms for a while.

COVID: Covid is not done with Louisiana. Our hospitalization numbers are rising again, but are still nowhere near where they were over the summer. Little outbreaks are popping up in schools – go figure. At the high school where I teach, the entire football team is in quarantine along with five coaches. But, who didn’t see that coming, right?

Experts expect numbers to climb again as cooler weather moves in, and some believe all of this hurricane displacement and movement has contributed to rising numbers. People in shelters and whatnot.

Around town, here in Shreveport, we are still under Governor Edwards mask mandate, but I’m seeing a lot of mask-fatigue. One popular diner in town is simply not using masks. None of the employees are wearing them. Ever. Yet people keep eating there, so they are apparently not concerned about it.

Last week, Governor Edwards extended Phase 3 until November 6. Some are calling it Phase 2.5 because it is still pretty strict.

BOOKS: I’ve been reading like a madwoman, and my taste in books is all over the place. I’m one of those people that will read several books at once. I read on NetGalley a lot, and write reviews for publishers for books that are not yet released.

Currently, I’m reading Michael Connelly’s The Law of Innocence (November 20, 2020) and it’s really good; typical Connelly, very tight, very suspenseful. It’s one of the Haller mysteries. It’s everything you want in a Connelly book.

I just finished Margreet’s Harbor by Eleanor Morse (April, 2021). This is a beautifully written, evocative novel that will make you wish you could call your mother one more time.

When Margreete sets her kitchen on fire, Liddie realizes her mother can no longer live alone. Liddie uproots her family and they all move in with Margreete in her coastal Maine home. The novel covers nearly two decades; we watch Liddie’s children grow up, we track the ups and downs of Liddie’s career and marriage, and we fall in love with Margreete.

Eleanor Morse is adept in writing from the perspective of a frustrated husband, a thirteen-year old boy, and a dementia addled woman. All are equally engaging and convincing. We are drawn into the family dramas and are touched by the sweet moments such as when daughter Gretchen can’t bear to hear the neighbor’s mother cow lowing mournfully for her separated calf.  Morse’s writing is never heavy-handed, always on point, and lovely in its simplicity. I really enjoyed this one.

I also read The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams (April 2021). It is historical fiction set in Oxford and follows Esme who we meet under the sorting table at the Scriptorium where her father works as part of the team compiling the Oxford English Dictionary. Esme’s mother is dead, and she and her father have a loving, nurturing relationship. The Scriptorium is a shed of corrugated iron in the garden of the home of Sir James Murray, team leader. Esme is fascinated with words and as one word, bondmaid, flutters to the ground, Esme scoops it into her pocket and a lifetime of collecting lost words begins.

The novel is populated with rich, well developed characters. I loved Lizzie, a “bondmaid” in the Murray home, and Mabel, from the market. Tilda and her brother Bill, both irascible, are intriguing characters; Tilda becomes deeply involved in the women’s suffrage movement and Esme flutters around the edges, resisting Tilda’s attempts to become more radical.

We follow Esme from childhood to womanhood and the Dictionary follows pace. Esme remains fascinated with words and collects “lost words” that never make it into the dictionary. We experience her joys and her heartbreaks and more than once I found myself crying with Esme and celebrating her joys. This is a book to be savored.

Not to leave out nonfiction, I’m reading a 2009 book, Last Days of Last Island by Bill Dixon which tells the story of the monster 1856 hurricane that obliterated a popular barrier island on the Louisiana Gulf Coast which was the summer playground for sugar planters, important politicians and businessmen. It’s well researched and the narrative structure reads much like a David McCullough book. 

Me and my stack of books are packing up tomorrow and heading to Acadiana to sit on the bayou for a week and recharge. I won’t be paying attention to any confirmation hearings, presidential races, or anything at all for five days. Glorious!

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: Cassidy v. Perkins, Senate 2020

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – One of the races people in Louisiana will be watching this fall will be the Senate race; incumbent Bill Cassidy will be challenged by Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins. I will tell you, a lot of people in Shreveport were not surprised when Perkins announced his candidacy; not many people really believe he has true dedication for the betterment of Shreveport.

When Perkins ran for mayor of Shreveport in 2018, he won in a runoff against incumbent Mayor Ollie Tyler. On paper, Perkins looks like a wunderkid: Harvard Law School, Army veteran, recipient of the Bronze Star, young, black, upwardly mobile…it all looks swell.

Looks are deceiving.

From the start Perkins drew controversy and criticism because he really did not live in Shreveport, and people could not figure out why he wanted to be mayor here.  Perkins was raised in Shreveport, graduated high school in Shreveport, but then left Louisiana to serve in the U.S. Army, and then was selected by the Pat Tillman Foundation to be a Tillman scholar; he went to Harvard.  Perkins was absent from Shreveport for fourteen years before he came back in 2017 to prime the pump for his mayoral run.

Perkins never voted in any election until he voted for himself at age 32 for mayor.

Local political pundit Elliot Stonecipher asked a lot of questions about the mysterious Adrian Perkins back in 2018 after Perkins won the election.

Stonecipher was not wrong.  There have been a lot of questions about Perkins and his behavior in the past two years.

For example, one of the first acts as mayor was to change insurance companies for the City. The new plan cost far more for far less coverage. As it turned out, the new plan was awarded to a man named Roddrelle Sykes of Frost Bank Insurance; Sykes is the first cousin of Perkins’s campaign manager.  Perkins did not get City Council authorization for this change which was required, nor did he go through the bid process.

The whole affair was very sketchy and prompted an Internal Audit. Scandal number one.

There was also a scandal, or controversy, about his car allowance; Perkins took both the car assigned to him AND the car allowance, rather than one or the other.

And then there were the rumors of potential drunk driving stops, which the mayor explained away and was never cited.

There have been a series of these unfortunate events that have caused many in Shreveport to question the mayor’s dedication to the city; does he really care about improving life in Shreveport or is this just a stepping stone to higher aspirations?

To that end, Barack Obama endorsed Perkins last week for his Senate bid, apparently only because Perkins is a Democrat rather than for any actual accomplishment he has done for the city.

One of his pet projects is Universal Basic Income which is obviously highly controversial.

In fact, Perkins cares so much for Shreveport, the first thing he did when Hurricane Laura blew threw earlier in the month, leaving thousands without power in Shreveport, Perkins decamped for Lake Charles to volunteer there for photo ops.

Under his tenure, crime in Shreveport has been epidemic with nearly daily shootings. We had this problem before, certainly, but it has gotten no better under Perkins. It seems to have gotten worse. Police officer pay is so low we are some forty officers short; the streets are drag strips and infrastructure is literally crumbling.

It would not be fair to attribute all of the Shreveport woes (and there are many) to Perkins, but as a man who vowed to improve life in Shreveport as part of his campaign, what has he done? Not much. Not much at all.  

I don’t think anyone really expects Perkins to win against Cassidy, but stranger things have happened. Perhaps this is more for exposure, paving the way later on for another bid at something else. He appears to have some fairly savvy handlers.

Suffice to say that many in town thought it was a joke when Perkins announced this run; I thought it was a Babylon Bee article at first, seriously.

But, time will tell.

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: Rescuing a Shrine

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – We are now in the Greek alphabet for naming hurricanes, with Beta headed toward the Louisiana/Texas Gulf coast this evening. This is only the second time we have gone to the Greek alphabet for this, the last time in 2005.

Beta will be primarily a rainmaker for us, which isn’t so bad, except the Lake Charles area really doesn’t need any more rain.

Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy worries that the nation has forgotten about Hurricane Laura and that relief efforts have stalled:

“The sentiment by many at home is that the nation has already forgotten about Hurricane Laura,” said Cassidy. “The fear is that the recovery efforts will be stall and we’ll be ignored while other news…takes over. I’m here to be the voice for the people of Louisiana and share our story with you so that you may know what we are facing.”

Many feel that if not for the Cajun Navy, progress in this area would be nowhere near where it is now. The Cajun Navy has been providing and organizing meals, relief drives, rescues, distributing water, among other things.

The Cajun Navy is not the only group providing relief and volunteering time, however.  In an uplifting story in The Advocate, we learn that a group of volunteers from Lafayette, primarily high school boys from St. Thomas More High School and their fathers, traveled to Cameron Parish “to work in eastern Cameron Parish, mostly at Catholic churches badly damaged by the Category 4 storm but also at private homes.”

While there, they rescued a treasured crucifix from Our Lady of the Star in Cameron, Louisiana. The crucifix reportedly weighs between 300 and 400 pounds and was made in Italy. The video of the rescue has gone viral around social media sites. They took the crucifix back to St. Thomas More for safekeeping.

The church also holds a seven-foot marble statue of Mary and child which was commissioned and made in Italy and dedicated in 1963.  Every year a mass is said at the shrine on June 1: The Mass to Avert Storms.

The boys from Lafayette were able to see this shrine which is still standing, when they rescued the cross.

It’s a nice reminder that as many feel forgotten in the wake of Hurricane Sally and now Beta, there are still people working to rebuild and restore the Cameron and Caldwell parish areas.

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 3

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Governor John Bel Edwards moved Louisiana into Phase 3 last week, but not everyone is happy about that, and with good reason.

In some ways, Phase 3 is stricter than Phase 2. For example, in Phase 2, bars are closed to on-site consumption, unless they are also serving food.  Restaurants were able to open and serve alcohol at 50% capacity.

Under Phase 3, the capacity for restaurants moves up to 75%, however now all alcohol must be served only at tables; so, if you’re a restaurant with a bar area where people eat at the bar, nope. You have to sit at a table.

And under Phase 3, bars can now open to 25% capacity or 50 people, whichever is smaller, but no alcohol can be sold in either bars or restaurants after 10 p.m., and all establishments must be clear of patrons by 11 p.m.

Live music and dancing are forbidden.

Now, local mayors can go back to a previous phase if it is stricter than the one currently in place, so perhaps local mayors should consider going back to Phase 2 where bars and restaurants could serve alcohol after ten.

High Schools are going ahead with football games beginning in a couple of weeks with “social distancing encouraged” in the stands. In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell is keeping her city in Phase 2, and has disallowed all alcohol consumption in bars. There will also be no prep football in New Orleans in Phase 2.

New Orleans is keeping the status quo of Phase 2 which means “bars will continue to be shuttered throughout the city and that restaurants, stores, gyms and other businesses are limited to 50% of their pre-coronavirus capacity.”

The rules in NOLA have been tougher than the rest of the state because their numbers were so high compared to other places.

At any rate, here in Shreveport anyway, bar owners are frustrated by the continued restraints on their business, and now those seem even tougher.

In Bossier Parish, where I teach, we are going back to 100% face to face instruction next week. No more A/B hybrid days. This has me concerned because this means my small classroom will again be filled to capacity with students. There are pros and cons to this: from an educational standpoint, of course it’s better because face it, the virtual model is not working well for many kids. But from a health standpoint, I’m nervous again.

There will be literally nothing I can do in my classroom as far as social distancing goes. We won’t be able to spread even three feet apart.

I don’t have the answers, but I don’t think anyone does. It’s like at this point, with restrictions easing on one end and tightening up on another, we are nowhere close to being on the same page with this virus. All I can do will be the best I can, and try to protect myself.

Life has never felt more dystopian.

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: a Book Review

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — I’ve just finished reading a beautiful novel that I want to share with you. As like probably many of you, I’m an avid reader with a pretty diverse interest range. I read a lot of nonfiction, literary fiction, women’s fiction, historical fiction…pretty much anything. Not a big fan of romance, but I do like a good mystery.

The End of the Day by Bill Clegg is a stunning new novel coming out September 29 and is available for pre-order on Amazon. The story takes a while to unfold — don’t get impatient. It’s worth the journey. Told from the POV of various characters, we are slowly pulled in, woven in, to this complex plot line of intersecting lives. Just how they intersect is not immediately clear.

The main characters are Jackie, Dana, and Lupita. Three women of different social class: Dana is wealthy and privileged, Jackie is middle-class, and Lupita working class. Lupita’s family works for Dana’s family who is sponsoring them for a green card; Jackie and Dana are childhood friends. The story is set in the framework of a single day yet covers sixty years and Clegg weaves this intricate plot one thread at a time.

The prose is lyrical and more than once I found myself reaching for a notebook to write down a line simply because it was so evocative and beautiful. Symbolic elements abound without being overpowering. This is the kind of novel you read slowly in order to absorb every detail and I was sorry when it ended.

This is the first Bill Blegg novel for me but now I’m going to go back and read his other work, both fiction and nonfiction: Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, and Did you Ever Have a Family, among others.

Add this book to your reading list; if you like solid, beautiful literary fiction, this is a good one.

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.

Report from Louisiana: Phase 2, Hybrid School

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is number 1 in cases per capita in the nation for Covid-19.  Governor John Bel Edwards has implemented a mask mandate across the state, closed bars, and continues to limit occupancy in restaurants. We are in Phase 2 of reopening for a few more weeks.

Meanwhile, schools are opening. This model looks very different from parish to parish. Most districts have delayed opening of school by a few days or a couple of weeks. Some districts are going virtual only for a period of time while others are using a hybrid model.

I’ve written a great deal about teacher anxiety, and maybe I need to just step away from the computer and the news for a while, because the anxiety is very real to me. What is intolerable to me, however, is the condescension I get over this. How dare anyone judge my feelings and fears. There are several factors that contribute to my fears of bringing Covid home from school to my family; absolutely nobody has the right to judge me for that.

There is a great deal of pressure on teachers right now to be silent about those anxieties, even to the point of reprimand from their administrators. This has not happened to me, but it has happened to someone I know. As teachers, we are expected to put on an enthusiastic face, all optimism and excitement, in order to quell the fears and anxieties of our students. I understand this, and it makes sense (well, not the reprimand). Teachers should never cause anxiety for their students on something like this! As professionals, we know this. Still, it doesn’t mean that in our personal and private lives, we don’t have that fear.

My district is one that is going to try the hybrid model. My day will begin at 6:55 in the classroom receiving students for breakfast, which will be delivered from the cafeteria. When they leave to go to their first class at 7:30, I will have to clean and sanitize the desks. I will have to clean and sanitize desks and computers between each class change throughout the day, as well as any high touch surfaces like door handles, pencil sharpeners, etc. I’ll need to ensure that students sit in the appropriate A/B desk assigned to them for the purpose of contact tracing should someone become infected. Students will eat lunch in my room, and we will have to sanitize desks after that, too.  I’ll have to leave my room by 2:30 everyday (school ends at 2:15) so that the room can be cleaned and sanitized by the custodial staff with the foggers.

In between all of this cleaning, sanitizing, and care, I’ll have to somehow teach the standards of my ELA curriculum, and prepare and upload virtual lessons for the “at home” kids who will be in class the next day. At this point, that almost seems secondary, doesn’t it?

My plan is to do all work 100% digital; I’m going to avoid touching paper and passing papers around. We will do the majority of our work in Google Classroom. When I come home, I’ll leave my shoes outside, shower and change clothes immediately. Overreaction? Maybe. Maybe not. I’d rather be sure.

Louisiana, all across the state, has a very high community spread – it’s anywhere from 94% to 98%, depending on the day. Under the mask mandate, we do seem to be leveling off a bit and hospitalizations are down slightly. The trend is good. There are many, many people who oppose the mask mandate and simply refuse to do it; you’ll see them with masks hanging from one ear, pulled below the nose, under the chin….you’ve seen them. Maybe you ARE them. Whether you believe they work or don’t, just do it. Wear the mask. See if it helps.

As schools across the country have opened, Covid exposures are being reported. Sometimes as “outbreaks” when only a couple of kids have been exposed and are just fine, really. I mean, you have to read these things and make your own judgments. In the Atlanta school with the crowded halls and few kids wearing masks we all saw in that viral photo is reporting nine exposures. The school is closed for two days and is doing virtual instruction. There was no mask mandate in place for that district.

I personally know two teachers who have retired or resigned from our district because of fear of Covid. I am certain there are more. I’ve seen the comments on social media: “Good! Make room for younger teachers!”  Well, no. One of these people IS a young, very gifted STEM teacher. The other is an experienced math teacher who is regarded as one of the top math teachers in our parish. These resignations are a loss to our profession.

So, going forward, I think the point is this. We need to be tolerant of each other’s fears and anxieties. This is all unprecedented and people have heath issues about which you may not be aware and are in no position to judge. We need to be a little patient with teachers too. Yes, it’s true that workers have been out there doing their jobs since March: law enforcement, heath care professionals, store clerks, etc., but as I’ve said before, teachers are a little different in that we are in a closed, unventilated room with up to thirty-three (sometimes more) students. Multiply that by however many classes, three in my case, and we are exposed to nearly 100 kids a day in close contact. It’s daunting.

Be patient with us teachers. Be kind. Be helpful. If your kids are sick or exposed, keep them home.

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: I’m armed with a spray bottle and a rag.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Admittedly, I am more than a little obsessed with reading about coronavirus and learning everything I can about mitigating the spread in my classroom as I prepare to return to in-person classes soon. The medical and research community is learning so much about the virus, how it spreads, and how we treat it every single day. What we thought we knew in May or June is already out of date.

I’ve been increasingly alarmed about returning to the classroom as regular readers of my posts know. My classroom usually holds 27 kids, it has no ventilation, and the windows don’t open. There is one door. It is a small room, as classrooms go, and so 25 kids in there is a wall to wall, but we always push those limits. I am told this year, as long as Louisiana is in Phase 2, there will be no more than ten students in the room at a time.

Every teacher will be supplied with one spray bottle of HALT, a hospital grade cleaner and disinfectant, and one microfiber rag. We are to use this rag to clean desks between classes, for the entire week, then the rag will be washed.

Every teacher will be provided with a cloth mask, and disposable masks will be available to students who do not have a mask. Masks will be mandatory for all, but “flexibility is expected,” assumingly for students with asthma and other medical conditions.

And pretty much, that’s it.  Good luck.

I’m honestly not sure how long we will be in school; as schools across the country are beginning to open up it does not seem to be going well. In Indiana, there was an issue on Day One at Greenfield Central when an infected student came to school. Also in Indiana, Elwood Senior High School is closing for one week because a staff member was positive for Covid.

White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said on Sunday that “areas with high caseloads and active community spread should ‘distance learn at this moment so we can get this epidemic under control.’” In Louisiana, our community spread rate has been in the upper 90% consistently.

So, I’m kind of resigned at this point; I’ll go back into my classroom which will in no way resemble the normal classroom that everyone wants to return to. It will be distance learning in person. I won’t be able to consult one on one with kids who need help because I can’t get that close to them.  I won’t be able to walk through the room to monitor work or behavior. There can be no fun group projects or activities.

And then someone will get sick; I hope it’s not the teacher on the third floor who has been doing chemo. I hope it’s not the teacher who gets pneumonia every year and struggles with respiratory issues. I hope it’s not the teacher with an auto-immune disease on my floor. I hope it’s not any of the students. I hope it’s not me. I hope none of us bring it home to at-risk family members.

And you know, there are these people who say that teachers are griping and worrying for nothing, that we are lazy and just don’t want to go to work. They point out that retail workers and grocery workers, hospital workers and law enforcement, have been working all along. This is true. They have. And thank goodness for that.

But which of them works in a small, unventilated room enclosed with 10 to 25 people, for six hours a day, for 60 to 90 minutes at a time? Not to take away from what other groups are doing at all, but what we are about to ask of teachers is unprecedented.

So. Armed with my spray bottle, my mask, and my microfiber rag, I’m expected to do what Major League Baseball can’t even do: protect my charges from a pandemic. With all of their money, and all of their resources, MLB can’t protect their million dollar investments.

But me and my spray bottle will try.

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: Back to School, Part II

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Over the past few weeks I have read everything I can get my hands on about reopening schools, about Covid-19, about teacher anxiety, about parent anxiety, about the disparity of internet access across rural America, and all of the other problems that are coming with the new school year.

Copious amounts of reading and research, and I still don’t have any answers.

This much I know:

Most teachers are freaking out about having to return to in-person classes in a few weeks. Some teachers are just ready to get back to the classroom, Coronavirus be damned.

School systems don’t have any real idea how to do this. There’s no blueprint. Some places have the virus more under control than others, and that has to play into whatever the plans for your district are.

Poor kids and rural kids don’t have the same internet access that suburban middle class or wealth kids do. This makes virtual schooling a challenge.

We need schools open for childcare so parents can work. No, wait, schools are for learning! And sources of food, and socialization! No! Wait!  What are we doing?

So. Much. Confusion.

And so many variances in our plans. In my school district, we are currently scheduled to go with an A/B-day hybrid model with kids coming on alternating Fridays. Parents uncomfortable with this can also opt for a virtual only option. Teachers will have kids in the room every single day.  Students will get on the bus, with or without a mask, sit two to a seat, get breakfast in the cafeteria, take it to their classroom and eat. THEN we will take temperatures.

How many people will have been exposed at that point if a student is carrying the virus?

Teachers are worried about supplies: are there enough thermometers? Do they work? Are there enough supplies for cleaning the classroom all day long? (We have to sanitize between every group that comes in).  What happens when there is an exposure, or an outbreak? New CDC guidelines say you don’t really have to quarantine for 14 days. In fact, you could be back at school before your positive test even comes back. Do we trust the CDC guidelines, now?

Everything has become so political.

So, look. At this point, after all this reading, after all of this ever changing research, I’m going to do what I should have resolved to do in the very beginning and save myself a lot of time. I’m going to protect myself. I’m going to wear my mask, keep my area wiped down, stay six feet away from everyone, all of the time, and take any other measures I deem necessary to protect myself.

I have that right.

There is absolutely nothing I can do about my district’s plans; they never asked for my input, after all. So all I can do is take care of myself. I’ll take care of my students the best I can, but if I don’t have the supplies, I will be limited in what I can do. I hope we have them.

At this point, all we can do is try to survive. I can’t read any more about best practices (we don’t have any), or try to keep up with changing sanitation measures.

I think we will probably be in session long enough to get Chromebooks out, kids accustomed to virtual platforms, classes set up, and then back home for 100% virtual schooling. I give it two weeks.

God knows, I hope I am wrong.

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.