Baldwin County and Gulf Shores school officials announced Thursday, July 9, 2020 what their return-to-school plans will look like. Parents will have to choose between virtual or traditional school. For those who send their kids back to school, school officials offered no guarantee they won’t come in contact with COVID-19.
As Baldwin County parents wait to hear guidelines for in-school facemasks and social distancing, another big question is what happens if teachers have symptoms of COVID-19? Gulf Shores has said it will handle that situation in a similar way to if a student shows symptoms.
“If they have symptoms in school, the plan is to immediately isolate, get them home safely or get them to a doctor safely and then, depending on if they test positive or if they’ve been in contact with someone, it’s a quarantine period, whether it’s fourteen days or 10 days is typically the period,” explained Gulf Shores superintendent, Dr. Matt Akin.
Federal funding will provide for 10 days of paid, COVID-related leave. Contact tracing will likely remain the responsibility of the State Health Department.
Baldwin County is responsible for more than 10 times the number of students and teachers as Gulf Shores but is not yet talking about its plan. Superintendent, Eddie Tyler was asked what will happen if a student tests positive, to which he said he wants to wait to see if new directives come down from the State Board of Education or Department of Health.
“You’ve got to trust that I know the plan. These senior staff members know the plan. Our Board will know the plan,” Tyler said. “They trust us to make the plan, but all the plan is not going to be revealed at this time because of things changing and of information that has not yet come out that you know will be changing.”
Jesse McDaniel with the Alabama Education Association said its members, both teachers and support staff are understandably apprehensive, but understand why Superintendent Tyler is holding off.
“We want to make sure we do everything we can to make kids safe and to keep employees safe, so if that means we need to wait and watch for more data to come in, then we can support that because we want to do what’s in the best interest for everyone,” said McDaniel.
Part of being prepared for what’s ahead is to make sure there are enough teachers in the classroom. McDaniel said substitute teachers could be at a premium this year.
“Increasing the substitute pool is one of those contingency plans to make sure that we have as many substitutes that we can possibly get because we are probably going to probably need more substitutes this year given the circumstances that we’re under,” McDaniel said.
The Alabama Education Association doesn’t play a role in hiring substitute teachers but is recommending the Baldwin County Board of Education hire more. Dr. Akin said Gulf Shores is keeping its application portal for substitutes open indefinitely as he also sees a need to hire more.