School reopenings addressed in statewide press conference

By BECKY J. BEALL / Community Columnist

State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey spoke Friday, June 26 in a 10 a.m. press conference addressing the reopening of schools for the 2020-21 calendar year. Alabama schools have been closed since mid-March due to COVID-19.

In a well-organized briefing, Dr. Mackey presented a basic roadmap for what campuses and learning facilities will look like when they reopen in August. Mackey emphasized multiple times that scenarios will vary from school system to school system and classrooms, while continuing in a somewhat traditional setting, will look different. Aside from classrooms being physically open, remote learning opportunities will be available to students. High-quality options will be available from local school systems with teacher direction.

Continuing to work closely with State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, Mackey reaffirmed that heavy criteria from each school system will dictate what is best for that area; meaning what one county does may not look at all like another. Local assessments will be based on (and change accordingly once school opens) the number of cases locally, the spread of the virus, cases documented within the school, community needs and so forth.

Dr. Mackey and his team have several areas that critically make up the cornerstones of successfully reopening schools and campuses in August. Of course, a huge focus is on wellness, social distancing and cleanliness, but also important are operations, instruction and technology. The most noticeable changes students will note lie within actual physical distancing, sanitation processes and enhanced cleaning protocols.

As gathered from the press conference, contact tracing will be used to notify and/or test others who may have been exposed to a student or teacher becoming ill at school. Will there be unpredictable circumstances that present along the way? Mackey says yes. And, that’s to be expected. Parents can help by keeping students off the buses and out of the classrooms when running a temperature or exhibiting symptoms consistence with COVID-19.

One thing on everyone’s mind is extracurricular activities. Clearly activities such as chorus cannot be performed while wearing a mask and social distancing, so (statewide) choral teachers are working to come up with ideas that will incorporate the activity with ample safety precautions.

Football and volleyball are sports in question and many suggestions are being made and explored currently for the best forward-moving protocol. Football, for instance, could expand the sideline area for players and coaches to between the 20-yard lines (currently it is the 30-yard lines) which would allow for additional room for players to distance from one another. Balls could be replaced and cleaned when play is stopped. Crowds may be limited and, in a manner similar to graduation ceremonies, have families sitting together, yet 6 feet from other families. Mackey indicated that he is working closely with Alabama High School Athletic Association Executive Director Steve Savarese on plans to make these athletic events as safe as possible.

Mackey makes no bones about the year that lies ahead, stating, “This is going to be the most difficult school year we have ever faced and will be the most difficult ever to get through, but we are determined to do it.” Students are deserving of absolutely no less.

And, if you are wondering how this affects Pelham City Schools directly, following is a statement from Dr. Scott Coefield, Superintendent of Pelham City Schools:

“We’re in the process of reviewing the Alabama State Department of Education’s roadmap, and we’ve assembled teams who will be utilizing the framework to build plans specific to Pelham. We’re embracing necessary changes, and we’re committed to implementing plans for a safe and successful return to school. We’ll be ready to welcome students and staff back to school in August, and we’re fully supportive of the families who will choose a remote learning option for their students.

“We’ll begin our initial discussions about our planning at the Board of Education meeting at Pelham High School on Monday, June 29. We aim to have our comprehensive plan ready to communicate to stakeholders by mid-July.”

The 50-page document mapping out the return to the classroom for the 2020-21 calendar year is available on the Alabama Department of Education website (Alsde.edu/), but keep in mind, it is designed for teachers and administrators. A parent guide is also available and is only a couple of pages in length on the same site. It is very important to note that families with students who have underlying health conditions or family members at home with such conditions (as well as those who feel more comfortable with distance learning at this time) will be thoughtfully accounted for with high-quality online learning curriculums.