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State Superintendent Mackey expects 40-50% of Alabama’s public school students will begin school year online

Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey on Friday gave an update about the reopening plans for public schools across the state.

Mackey was speaking remotely during a virtual event hosted by Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

All public school systems across the state have been required to offer a virtual option for the upcoming school year to accommodate students who have pre-existing conditions or live with immunocompromised adults.

Additionally, high rates of coronavirus transmission in Alabama have led to around 15 of the state’s biggest school systems to begin the school year online for all students.

“Probably it is somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of our students that will be on remote learning within the next month or so,” said Mackey on Friday.

He noted that for about 25% of Alabama’s public schoolchildren, online learning would be their only option at the beginning of the school year because many of the state’s largest systems have chosen to instruct virtually for the first nine weeks of the school year.

With regards to the quality of instruction in-person versus online Mackey said that “there is no substitute” for high-quality in-person instruction but the state has “gotten pretty good at” online education over the last several years.

The state superintendent added that the thought of an entirely virtual school year was “a little bit scary” to him and he hopes that every school system offers an in-person option this year.

Mackey remarked that the challenges virtual instruction faced for the upcoming school year were greater than those faced in the spring when all Alabama public schools were required to finish the year online.

“It was the end of the school year, so teachers knew their students,” Mackey commented with regards to the spring.

“As we start the new school year teachers are going to be getting new students that they don’t even know. If they start remotely it is difficult to make those connections for the first time. It can be done, but it is not easy,” he continued.

The state superintendent said that the cohort of students who most needed in-person instruction were those aged four to eight, though he allowed that resources such as Alabama Public Television could assist with kids that age.

Mackey was asked about the safety of student-athletes resuming competitions even while many school systems met virtually. He replied that the decision to engage in sports was made at the local level, and talked approvingly about the many rules put into place by the Alabama High School Athletic Association.

Senator Jones asked the state superintendent which conditions could cause a school to close during the upcoming school year.

“We don’t have a number,” said Mackey, before adding it was something that he and Alabama’s State Health Officer “continue to wrestle with.”

He noted that in a normal year when the flu breaks out in a school the building shuts down when around 20% of students catch the bug.

“What we anticipate is more of intermittent closures,” Mackey advised.

The full briefing can be viewed here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@new-yhn.local or on Twitter @HenryThornton95