ALSDE releases plans for returning to school this fall

State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey delivers his remarks Friday morning. (video capture)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey on Friday introduced the ALSDE’s roadmap for returning to school this fall in the midst of COVID-19. The roadmap includes a return to traditional, on-campus learning, remote learning and a blend of both options. He said local school districts across the state will make the final decisions for their schools.

Mackey said of the roadmap, “It’s a guidance document, but it’s not legal device or an ALSDE mandate…it’s designed to help; it is not the answer to everything.”

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris joined Mackey in his presentation to answer health-related questions.

“What will school look like in the fall? Will our campuses re-open for in-person instruction? Well, absolutely, our campuses will re-open for in-person instruction,” Mackey 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.”

He continued, “There will be remote learning options.”

Mackey said after polling families around the state, about 15% of families said they are not comfortable sending their children back to school. He said that in many cases it’s because their child has a severe, underlying medical condition or someone in their family does. In some counties, however, where there are more severe outbreaks, Mackey said about 80% of families would choose remote learning. Likewise, in counties where the outbreaks are minimal, that drops to about 3%.

“Local boards of education, working under the recommendation of their superintendents and in consultation with the Department of Public Health and other health officials, will make the decision about campus status throughout the school year. We could be in a situation where we say some students have to go home….we could get into a situation where a whole classroom has to be closed for a number of days, so those kinds of things may have to happen, and those calls will be made by the local board of education, again, with the recommendation of the superintendent and in consultation with  the Department of Public Health.”

Mackey said additional resources are being put toward virtual learning programs, including new curriculum for pre-K through grade 12. He said the department has invested in a statewide learning management system for teachers.

“We’ve used some of our money to by the best available for every school system in the state

Internet access is also being addressed, Mackey said, mentioning the use of school buses as mobile hot spots.

He said every school will look different.

“It’s going to be different based on the setup of that school, based on the resources, based on community needs and of course based on the spread of the virus,” he said.

Mackey also addressed extracurricular activities, including athletics, and said all will take place, but will look different. He said discussions are ongoing to find ways to keep everyone safe while practicing social distancing.

Said Mackey, “This is going to be the most difficult school year we have ever faced. It’s going to be the most difficult school year to get through, but we absolutely are determined to do it, and we’re determined to do it not because it’s easy; we’re determined to do it because we have students who are counting on us. So, we have to do it, and we will.”

“We know that there are going to be many things that are unanticipated,” said Harris, “ and yet, I think this is a terrific framework for helping local officials make decisions about how to do the best things in their community to make sure that kids to receive the education that they need and deserve, but also to keep people safe. Both of those have been our goals throughout this whole process.”

Cullman City Schools

“As Dr. Mackey has shared the state department guidance on reopening schools this fall, we will be embedding that guidance in the preliminary plans we have been working on since schools were closed. The safety of our students and staff always comes first and this will be even more important as we navigate toward reopening,” Superintendent Dr. Susan Patterson said in a statement.

“The district and school administrators have been identifying needs, developing instructional plans and identifying resources to make a successful transition back to in-school instruction. We recognize there are still unknowns and are developing the contingencies within our local plan now that we have the state guidance.

“More information will be coming over the next few weeks related to the options students and parents will have so that they can make decisions based on their situation. We are excited to have the opportunity to get our children back in the classroom and want to ensure a safe and supportive learning environment for all.”

Cullman County Schools

The Tribune is awaiting comments from Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette.

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Wendy Sack