ROBERTSDALE, Ala. (WALA) -- Officials with Baldwin County Public Schools held a press conference Thursday morning to discuss return-to-school plans for the 2020-21 school year.
Baldwin superintendent Eddie Tyler Jr. began the news conference informing parents that teachers and students will be required to wear masks during school. Masks will be provided, Tyler said, and students with special needs will be able to use face shields.
At the same time, Tyler released this text from an email intended for all parents of children attending school. The email includes information covered by Tyler during the news conference.
I hope you are doing well, continuing to enjoy the summer and staying safe.
I return to you this week with additional information about our return to school on August 12th. This update will include information regarding preventative measures such as masks, social distancing, temperature checks, cafeteria service, school sanitation, transportation and bus sanitation. This is again, a lot of information and I expect you will want to read this very long email more than once.
Let me start out reminding everyone that by choosing to send your child to traditional school, you accept your child is going to come in contact with the coronavirus. There is a level of risk we accept whether it is the flu, the coronavirus and even dating back to days of the chickenpox. If this concerns you, then we invite you to enroll in our Virtual School program which has been graded the best Virtual School program in Alabama.
Now, let's talk about returning to school.
Each of our schools will have installed temperature detection devices so that when children enter our buildings they will be scanned and have their temperatures taken upon their arrival. Any temperature over 100.4 degrees will initiate a process by which we will check the child for coronavirus symptoms through the school nurse.
I will get more into the process about how we check for coronavirus, what our policies are for those students and staff who are positive, along with our public COVID reporting system and public dashboard in next week's update.
On to face masks.
The governor’s health order released yesterday has required all employees and students to wear masks. While we recognize that the governor’s order is set to expire on July 31, we expect it will be extended and cover the start of school.
We have students who suffer from medical conditions, emotional challenges and/or special needs for whom wearing a mask will likely be impossible. We will provide exemptions and alternate protections for those students who are a part of our special services or who have a medical exemption.
Masks worn by students will be subject to our uniform policy. Printed words or graphics on mask will not be allowed if they violate our uniform policy, or if they are offensive to others or create a distraction. Parents, please use common sense when sending a child to school with their mask.
I am certain there are going to be instances when children don't bring masks to school, lose their mask and don't wear their masks. We're going to take the position of those localities in our state who have implemented mask ordinances. We will not be instilling any type of discipline or punishment but rather we will start out by simply providing those students with a mask to wear.
If anything about our mask policy concerns you, I again invite you to consider our award-winning Virtual School as an option for your child.
Let's talk about social distancing.
All of our teachers are going to do the best they can within our school limitations to socially distance your children. We expect that establishing social distancing in our classrooms will depend significantly upon the number of students who have enrolled in our traditional schools. The less students we have in our classrooms, the more space we have to social distance.
I do expect we will have success in establishing social distance in our classrooms, but it is reasonable to expect that it will not be maintained at all times and therefore we have required masks as previously mentioned.
What about our cafeterias?
When students eat lunch or breakfast, we will be changing our protocols to provide for additional social distancing.
Breakfast will be restructured to provide for better social distancing as well as more grab-and-go options.
Middle and high school students will not be limited to eating in the cafeteria. These older students will be given flexibility to eat in other locations designated on campus including outdoors. This will allow the opportunity for students to spread out.
As I have mentioned in previous emails, I expect children to be children. While our middle and high school students should take this matter more seriously and act with greater maturity, I know they are going to sit together and they are going to congregate. While we will be patrolling and recommending social distancing, I can no more assure you they will be appropriately socially distanced at all times, than if they were playing in your neighborhood.
Our elementary students in kindergarten through sixth grade will have their eating schedules and locations changed. Elementary grades will eat in a rotating A/B schedule, using both the cafeteria and other designated eating locations. This will allow us to provide adequate social distancing and sanitization for our students. Food will be available for purchase as has been in the past. Principals will provide additional details upon return to school.
Our cafeterias will continue to provide food service as we have in the past. Our cafeteria workers, under the direction of our administration and the Department of Health, will implement safety protocols to ensure safe food preparation and service much like in restaurants today.
Let's be honest, social distancing throughout our school environment is going to be a challenge. I am certain there are going to be instances across all of our campuses where social distance protocols are not going to be followed. I am sure we are going to be sent pictures of interactions which are not socially distanced nor where masks were being worn. I think it is reasonable to assume this is going to happen and will probably happen a lot.
I'm going to remind everyone again that by choosing to send your child to traditional school, you accept a certain level of risk including that your child is likely to come in contact with the coronavirus. If this concerns you, then I strongly suggest you consider enrolling in our award-winning Virtual School program.
Let's talk about sanitization of our schools.
Over the summer, we began stockpiling hospital grade and food grade cleaners for our facilities. In addition to the truckloads of hand sanitizer, we believe we are well prepared to sanitize our schools. These products have been approved for use with children and are not considered to be harmful nor cause any allergic reactions.
Every night our schools will be sprayed with a hospital-grade surface cleaner that will kill the coronavirus and other germs within 10 minutes of contact. Our principals and our administrative staff have worked out a plan to spray our buildings, classrooms, supplies, gymnasiums, playgrounds and equipment each night after school has closed and all students have left. Our goal is to ensure a clean school at the start of the next day.
Similar operations will take place in our cafeterias but using a different cleaner which is approved to be used around food. This cleaner will also be utilized during the day between meals and again in the evenings in preparation for the next day.
Should we have a need to sanitize a room or an area during the day, we have developed a protocol by which we will remove the students and staff from that area, spray the area down and return everyone back to class after the product has had an appropriate time to work. We expect that this process would take up to 30 minutes.
We have looked into many products and many technological solutions including UV lighting and air filtration products. While these things have the initial appearance of providing additional benefits, further investigation has shown us that some of these benefits are not consistent, the products are not readily available and/or will not work with our systems. We will continue to evaluate new products and new technology and implement them when feasible.
Parents, the most important step in sanitization is the one so many of us forget to do which is wash our hands with soap and water multiple times a day.
The most important protocol in our system will be to consistently encourage our students to wash their hands with soap and water and utilize hand sanitizer throughout the day when they are not washing. This is something I hope you have been encouraging your own children to do over the last few months and something we will be leaning upon within our school environment.
Let me close out with transportation.
We will be running our bus operations in Baldwin County as we have previously. If you utilize bus transportation out of convenience and have the means to otherwise transport your child to school, we highly recommend you choose a form of transportation other than our bus system. The fewer people on our bus, the greater the likelihood we can socially distance. If we are able to get our bus riders limited to only those who need busing as an absolute necessity, we believe we can accomplish an appropriate level of social distancing.
As we start school, I would set your expectations on seeing a bus full of children with more than one child per row sitting next to each other traveling to school. The reality is that we do not have extra buses, and even if we had the money, there is no way for us to have procured a quantity of buses large enough to socially distance the thousands of students who we transport every day.
Because we do not believe we can maintain the 6/15 social distancing recommendation of no less than 6-foot for more than 15 minutes, we will be requiring students to wear masks on busses. We have also installed hand sanitizer dispensers at the entrance of our buses and students will be required to hand sanitize when entering the bus and when leaving the bus. Our drivers will be provided protective equipment and will be allowed to provide their own protective equipment so far as it does not impair their ability to drive and operate safely.
Our buses will be sanitized in a similar matter to our school facilities. At the end of every day our buses will be sprayed down with a hospital-grade sanitizer to prepare for the next day’s transportation. After the morning routes, once the buses are parked back at their school locations, the buses will again be sanitized during the day in preparation for their afternoon route.
I want to end this email where I started. We are going to face challenges. I believe we have laid out an excellent plan to address as best we can, the concerns of all of our parents and students. I am just as certain that we will not maintain these standards every day and there will be instances where something doesn't go right. There will be instances where; a student doesn't wear their mask, a child gets sick at a lunch table, a parent gives their child Tylenol and sends them to school, or our children sit together and socialize without social distancing during lunch break. Despite our best efforts this is going to happen, and I remind you that by choosing to send your child to traditional school, you are accepting a risk that they are going to come in contact with the coronavirus.
We have worked thousands of hours doing our best to prepare for what we believe is an essential function - getting children back in school, so that our families can continue to work. We have also provided an excellent Virtual School option that should be considered by those families who are concerned about any health implications or distractions within our traditional school environment.
Thank you for the emails over the last couple of weeks. There have been many, many, many messages of encouragement and prayers. There are also those who want to offer their professional advice, their parental perspective or who want to tell me how completely inadequate we are. I read all of these messages and often stay awake wondering what else we can do. I hope you know all of us are focused on what’s best for your children and our teachers in the classroom.
I want to tell you about our awesome employees. I am blown away by the dedication and work from our leadership team as well as our 4,000 employees who have continued to work throughout this effort. I am so proud of our teachers who have spent the summer working through professional development and their own personalized training to be prepared for the challenges this year will present.
Thank you for your time. Please visit our website where you will find frequently asked questions as well as links and contact information regarding the coronavirus. Visit www.bcbe.org/coronavirus to find out more information or to enroll your child in Virtual School, please visit www.Baldwinvirtual.com.
I will be back next week to talk about our health and safety protocols including how we will deal with an outbreak, student and staff diagnosis, leave from school and public reporting of COVID within our schools.