• 68°

ACS starts school year Wednesday, Aug. 5

While the city and parish public schools are still several days away from opening, Annunciation Catholic School is going ahead with its plan to open the 2020-21 academic year today, Wednesday, Aug. 5. It will be doing so with a new principal.

Veda Matthews announced her retirement Monday, and Annunciation Catholic Church’s pastor, the Rev. Father Daniel Brouillette, will be the new principal. Tabetha Ezell will be the dean of students, and handle most of the day-to-day administrative duties for the school. Ezell is an ACS graduate and has been a teacher at the school for 24 years.

“We are ready to go, we are starting tomorrow,” Ezell said Tuesday morning. “All of our faculty has had in-services the past few days, and we had training over the summer on proper procedures. We are ready to get started and hit the ground running.”

The ACS plan for re-opening takes into account COVID-19 pandemic health recommendations from national, state and archdiocesan officials. One of the main changes is that mask use will be required in many cases.

Every student at ACS will be required to have a mask, labeled with the student’s name, available throughout the day to be worn when social distancing is difficult. Such instances may include entering and exiting the building, changing classes, fire drills and other safety drills, or bad weather emergencies. Inside the classroom, students will be allowed to take their masks off as long as they can observe social distancing.

Students who have a documented history of respiratory conditions that prohibit the use of masks will be excused from the requirement. Staff will be required to wear masks when working in close proximity to students.

Ezell said that the Archdiocese of New Orleans allowed for each school to submit its plan for re-opening, since schools vary in size within the archdiocese. ACS has had its plan approved by both archdiocese and Our Lady of the Angels Hospital officials, Ezell said.

“The plan that we are using has already been disseminated to our parents,” she said.

Employees will be responsible for the cleaning and maintenance requirements during the day. A contracted janitorial service will deep clean the building every afternoon. In addition, the school is being advised by personnel at Our Lady of the Angels Hospital, as to medical protocols that should be followed.

The plan is for the hospital to supply ACS with COVID-19 signage and information for parents. Nurses will also visit ACS to deliver age-appropriate information to the students, such as the method for proper hand-washing.

All staff and visitors who enter the campus will be required to wear a face mask, consent to a temperature check and use hand sanitizer. Visitors will not be allowed past the office area; only ACS staff will have access to the school buildings.

Students in grades pre-K through third grade will remain in “static groups.” Fourth and fifth grade will share two teachers, and sixth and seventh grade will share two teachers. Classrooms have been reassigned to minimize movement, desks will be spaces as far apart as possible, and extra furniture has been stored away.

During recess and PE, students will remain with their class grouping. There will be no contact sports or shared equipment.

The school also has procedures for its lunchroom, Mass attendance and service projects, among other things. All mandates and guidelines are subject to change, and school staff will announce any adjustments accordingly.

“Everything will be in accordance with the safety guidelines,” Ezell said. “As long as we remain in Phase 2 (as a state), we will follow this plan. If we progress into Phase 3, it will allow us to have a little more latitude.

“Student movement has really been the thing that has impacted us the most. We want to make sure there’s no mixing of the classes, and that students remain in static groups. When the state’s re-opening phase advances — which we hope will be soon — we might be able to relax some of those measures.”

Ezell said that she and other ACS faculty members wish Matthews a happy retirement.

“She has been in education for 45 years,” she said. “We feel that it’s a very well-deserved retirement. We will miss her greatly.”

In a letter to stakeholders, Brouillette spoke positively about Matthews’ impact on ACS. She had been the principal for the last nine years.

“Her devotion to our students, her support of our faculty and staff, and her unfailing loyalty to Annunciation Parish is nothing short of remarkable,” he wrote. “It is with great sadness that I announce that Mrs. Matthews has decided to retire and will not be returning to ACS this year. Mrs. Matthews has been a strong leader, and she will continue to be a prayerful supporter of ACS. Her contribution to our school has been invaluable; this is evidenced by the love that the students and the staff have for her.”

For more information, visit the ACS website at www.acsbogalusa.org.

As of press time, the Washington Parish Schools plan to open on Aug. 17, and the Bogalusa City Schools plan to open on Sept. 8.