State unveils school reopening plan — Students back in classrooms and online learning for those who choose
MONTGOMERY — State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey announced on Friday that students will be back in classrooms this fall, but online options will be available for those who want or need them.
Mackey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris unveiled Alabama’s plan for public schools in the fall of 2020 at a press conference.
The Department of Education put together a sheet of information for parents that can be accessed here.
Mackey detailed how many of the direct changes to schedules, activities and other important details would be handled by local boards of education.
He said the State has invested significant money in making an online option available for all students in the fall and is taking measures like installing wifi on school buses and public libraries to make sure more students have access to that option.
The state superintendent also said that sports like football and basketball along with activities like choir and band “would resume” but warned they will “look different.”
Harris warned that outbreaks will inevitably occur once students are back in the confined indoor space of a classroom. He added that the State’s plan unveiled Friday was “good” and “necessary.”
The piece of information that Mackey repeated most often is that local school systems will have the most authority over what their schools look like in the fall.
He detailed that local officials will make calls to send a student or “a whole classroom” home if/when needed.
Mackey that school systems have been given no firm due date for their reopening plans, but one thing that ALSDE is encouraging is a later start date for the school year.
“This is going to be the most difficult school year we have ever faced,” admitted Mackey at one point.
Students in the fall will have three methods of receiving instruction according to information handed out on Friday: remote or online learning, traditional on-campus instruction, and a blend of the two.
The “blended” method of instructions was mentioned as an option for those students who are diagnosed with the coronavirus and have to stay home for two weeks. The plan is for students in that situation to transition to online learning and then back into the classroom when they are no longer infectious.
“Every school will look different,” Mackey said about COVID-19 precautions. He specifically mentioned school cafeterias as an area that would function much differently in the fall.
Mackey said that around 15% of the parents with whom his department has spoken have expressed reservations about returning their child to the classroom this fall.
Yellowhammer News asked Harris and Mackey if there was an official estimate on the number of school children with pre-existing conditions that make catching COVID-19 especially dangerous.
They replied that there was no official count but warned that Alabama children have higher rates of conditions like asthma than other states; and serious asthma can cause the coronavirus to turn deadly.
Mackey pleaded with parents,”Don’t put your child on the bus if you know they’ve got symptoms.”
The superintendent said students will be subject to any mask requirements put in place by local governments, but the state is not issuing an ordinance at this point.
Both Harris and Mackey said they had done work coordinating cleaning and sanitation efforts with local schools, and Mackey mentioned that local officials are hard at work on sourcing enough cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer for the school year.
The department also put together a packet of several dozen pages called the “Roadmap to Reopening Schools” that is meant for school administrators and local education officials.
Mackey said around 60 people advised on the creation of the packet, and local superintendents have had access to it for several days.
Macked warned the roadmap was “not legal advice or an ALSDE mandate” but more along the lines of a best practices memo.
Harris warned that we “will see outbreaks associated” with extracurricular events like football games, and urged citizens to wear masks and social distance to every extent possible.
This news is breaking and will be updated.