Alabama's State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey says the full intention is for schools to start back on campus this fall.
But parents will have options.
Schools will have traditional classes, but also remote options as well for parents not comfortable sending their children back to school.
It's going to be up to local school districts to make their own decisions about how they reopen, and more information should be coming after July 4th.
Mackey says there will be extracurricular activities and individualized education programs for special needs students.
He says this will all take some adjustment from parents, teachers, and students.
Mackey said, "Our students should expect that things are not going to be completely back to normal. We're going to be doing enhanced cleaning protocols. In some campuses, eating lunch will look different, eating breakfast will look different, the school day may look different, but it will be a fairly traditional normal looking circumstance. "
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris was also at a news conference Friday and said he anticipates there will be cases occurring in schools.
He said contact tracing will play an important role when cases do happen.
Alabama’s top educator on Friday laid out his plan for the new normal, a coronavirus-inspired plan that includes both in-person and remote learning.
State Superintendent Eric Mackey said a news conference in Montgomery that the 50-page plan is designed with teachers and students in mind, and gives maximum flexibility to local school districts. But he cautioned it would not be easy.
“This is, indeed, going to be the most difficult school year that we have ever faced,” he said.
And there is a “blended” option, Mackey said.
“It means doing a little bit of both of the above,” he said.
However, Mackey said he anticipates children learning in the classroom again, along with other options.
“Our campuses will reopen for in-person instruction,” he said. “It is our intention that all of our campuses will be open for in-person instruction – that there will be an opportunity for in-person, in-the-classroom instruction for every child in the state whose parent chooses to send them to school all year long.”
But Mackey also alluded to the unpredictable nature of the virus, warning, “We cannot predict the year.”
Mackey said surveys indicate about 15 percent of parents are uncomfortable with sending their children back to school in the fall. He said the state plans to offer a range of remote learning options to accommodate them.
Alabama public schools shut down traditional schools and switched to online or virtual learning in March due to the spreading COVID-19 pandemic.
Alabama has reported almost 33,000 cases of COVID-19 and at least 880 deaths from the virus. More than a quarter of the cases have been reported in the last two weeks.
Mackey said surveys indicate about 15 percent of parents are uncomfortable with sending their children back to school in the fall. That ranges from about 3 percent to as high as 80 percent depending on the community, he said. He added that the state plans to offer a range of remote learning options to accommodate them.
The “roadmap” outlined by Mackey features three main areas:
- Wellness, which includes things like nursing and how schools take care of students.
- Operations and facilities, which offers instructions for cleaning, transportation and nutrition services.
- Instruction and technology.
“Every school is going to look different,” Mackey said. “Every school already looks different around the state. What we do in one rural comm cannot be the same as way we react in one of our major cities.”
Mackey said the traditional school environment will be fairly similar to what parents and students are used to, albeit with important changes. School lunches might not look the same, he said.
Alabama was one of the first states to launch online learning at the high school level, Mack said. To augment distance learning, he said, the state used most of an $18 million grant to buy a remote learning curriculum for pre-kindergarten students all the way up to 12th grade.
Mackey stressed flexibility.
“It is much different to put a 16-year-old on remote learning than a 6-year-old. And we understand that,” he said.
Dr. Scott Harris, the state health officer, praised the plan as a “terrific framework.” He offered health guidance, which includes issues like congested areas that can become “chokepoints” inside school buildings.
“Gatherings that are outdoors are going to be better than gatherings that are indoors, at least depending on ventilation, for example,” he said.
Harris said the Health Department would do its best to isolate students or employees who become infected and track down people they have interacted with.
“We are certainly tracing at numbers that have never had to try to do before,” he said. “It’s posed quite a challenge for Alabama and every other state.”
Q: Are the ALSDE recommendations mandatory?
ALSDE recognizes that all recommended guidance will not be possible in all settings and should be amended based on the needs of each school system and school as appropriate.
Q: Will campuses reopen for in-person instruction?
Yes, the expectation is for Alabama campuses to reopen for traditional learning this fall.
Q: Who will determine if my local campus stays open?
Local Boards of Education, upon the recommendation of their superintendents and in consultation with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and/or local public health officials, will make determinations about specific changes in campus status throughout the year.
Q: What are some things that might be different on campuses?
Local school systems set day-to-day policies and procedures. Communications around when and if facial coverings should be worn, for example, will come directly from your local school system. Students may expect to see changes in physical distancing, increased sanitization, and personal hygiene on while on campuses.
Q: What kind of precautions will schools have to take?
A portion of the essential guidance will require enhanced cleaning and sanitization and that all schools designate an area of quarantine for students who become ill at school.
Q: What remote learning opportunities might be available?
In Alabama’s model, local school systems are responsible for developing and implementing policies and procedures around each of these three instructional scenarios. The State has committed to offer remote learning resources through a third-party curriculum developer as well as to expand the high school ACCESS program to all school systems. It is the recommendation of ALSDE that all school systems provide access to both traditional and remote options throughout the 2020-2021 school year. Further details about how remote learning will be improved can be found in the full Roadmap.
Q: What if I do not have Internet at home?
Local school systems are continuing to inventory Internet accessibility for students. The results of this inventory can provide insights on how students can have internet connectivity throughout the state. ALSDE and school systems are diligently advocating for Internet connectivity for all students.
Q: What can I do to help?
HOME is the first point on the screening continuum. School systems should educate and support families on identifying the symptoms that indicate staff and students must stay at home. Families should be encouraged to self-report symptoms of illness, which could include fever, new onset of cough, etc. Self-reporting mechanisms could include calling the school or calling your health-care provider.
Q: What is being done to close the digital divide for Alabama’s students?
ALSDE continues to work with state leaders to secure funding and additional opportunities for expansion of broadband infrastructure. Many school systems have already invested in innovative tactics to close the digital divide by purchasing devices. ALSDE is providing best practices as examples to school systems, distributed funds, and is providing a remote/digital curriculum to all school systems.
Q: Will extracurricular activities be allowed?
Yes, we will continue to work with school systems to provide best practices for off-campus field trips, etc. We also continue to share the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s guidance for sports.