Superintendent Eddie Tyler provided more details Thursday about how things will look when Baldwin County’s public schools resume in-person classes Aug. 12. Once again, he emphasized children who return to school will risk being exposed to COVID-19.
With the caveat, Tyler said administrators and teachers throughout the system are taking every precaution to keep students and teachers safe as they resume the essential business of education.
“I believe reopening schools during this critical time is crucial for many, many families, and I’ve received an outpouring of communications from parents asking us to stay the course and saying: ‘Our children need to be back in school,’ and those parents know the risk,” Tyler said. “When you send your children to traditional brick and mortar schools, you accept the risk that your child will come in contact with the coronavirus. But as I’ve said before, the Department of Homeland Security has labeled us an essential industry, and it’s essential that our school doors open not just in Baldwin County but across the country.”
In all, Tyler said more than 85 percent of parents have indicated that they will send their children back to traditional school when classes resume next month while at least 3,500 have signed up for the system’s virtual school program, which will be led by teachers and based on the same curriculum. Tyler added administrations will be able to use any available space in schools to allow greater social distancing.
According to Tyler, daily temperature checks will be performed at every school, and any student or staff member registering a fever of 100.4 degrees and higher will receive a follow-up visit from a nurse to investigate his or her symptoms. He also said a nurse will be stationed at every school in the district and administrators have set up separate “isolation rooms” for students showing symptoms of COVID-19.
Students and teachers will also wear masks or face coverings — with some health-related exceptions — as long as Gov. Kay Ivey’s statewide mandate in public spaces remains in effect. That order is currently expected to expire July 31, though it’s widely believed that Ivey will extend it into the future.
Tyler also implored parents to keep their children at home if they’re feeling sick or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and to notify school officials when those situations occur. He said all “COVID-related absences will be excused,” also giving a few examples of how the school system will respond when a school or classroom has been exposed to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
“Every day we’re cleaning and sanitizing our schools expecting that we’ll have COVID-19 exposure,” he said. “The halls, the classrooms, the cafeterias and the gyms will be sanitized either in the morning before anyone arrives or at the end of the day when we look the school up.”
The district plans to release daily updates about the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and the schools that are affected but will not release any information about individual classrooms or students.
According to the school system, any teacher or student diagnosed or suspected of having COVID-19 will not be allowed back in school until they can present a signed doctor’s note clearing them to return to school or negative COVID-19 test result. Those diagnosed or suspected of having COVID-19 can also return if they remain away from school for 14 days, are fever free for three days without medication and show improvement of other symptoms.
who tests positive will not be allowed to return to school without a note from a doctor clearing them, a negative COVID-19 test result or until they’ve gone through a 14-day quarantine, been fever-free for three consecutive days and have seen a decline in any other symptoms.
Tyler said the system has proactively signed more than 1,500 registered substitute teachers and has the flexibility to use existing personnel if a teacher becomes sick and a substitute isn’t available.
“Teachers will get sick just like students, and some teachers have chosen to retire — about sixty to date,” Tyler said. “Some teachers have taken a leave of absence but it hasn’t been any more than we’ve seen in previous years, and we’ve had great success filling every position.”
As someone whose age puts them at advanced risk for complications during a COVID-19 infection, Tyler said he understands the risks, but still believes reopening schools is the right thing to do. Though systems in Mobile, Huntsville, Montgomery and Birmingham will start the year with online classes only, Tyler said his staff will continue planning for students to return until he’s told to do otherwise.
With that said, Tyler added the district will always have the ability to close any of its facilities if the situation at any school, feeder pattern or within the system becomes dire. He said there are already plans in place to transition some students or all students to distance learning if closing schools is necessary.
“That will be made in close [communication] with the school board, public health officials and local leaders, and it’s a decision we will not take lightly,” Tyler said. “I will do whatever is best for our employees and students, but it would need to be a bigger challenge than what we’re facing at this time.”
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