‘It’s working’: CHS sticking with hybrid schedule, CMS adjusting traditional schedule

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Cullman Tribune file photos

CULLMAN, Ala. – Cullman High School will remain on a hybrid learning schedule moving forward to ensure the safety of students and faculty, after shifting to the mixed online and in-person approach in early September. The initial hybrid schedule announcement was set to expire Oct. 2.

Cullman Middle School will be making some adjustments to ensure its in-person learning environment is as safe as possible, though the school will not be switching to a hybrid model and will maintain its more traditional five-day schedule.

Officials at the system are working hard to make local schools as safe as possible, finding creative ways to limit exposure and the potential spread of the coronavirus.

At Cullman High School the existing hybrid schedule will remain unchanged, with students attending two days per week in-person and participating in online learning when not on campus. The hybrid schedule has effectively allowed the high school to split its 774 traditional on-campus students into two groups, with only half on campus at one time. Another 206 students are attending school virtually.

Cullman High School Principal Kim Hall said the hybrid system has worked well to limit exposure to the coronavirus on campus, which is why the decision was made to extend it. With the campus at half capacity, it allows for smaller class sizes and more social distancing. Though the school has had to deal with some COVID-19 cases, Hall noted virtually all cases related to students could be traced from elsewhere — meaning the virus likely wasn’t caught or spread on campus.

Though it’s taken a learning curve the past several weeks, Hall said students and staff have reacted well to the hybrid schedule — and most importantly — it’s keeping the community safe. The number of students absent due to coronavirus cases and cautionary quarantining has steadily declined since the hybrid schedule went into effect.

“Teachers and students need a routine,” she said. “We do not make this decision lightly. Of course, we all want to get back to normal. Everyone wants to be back to normal, but right now it’s working. This is what we have to do to meet the standards from the Alabama Department of Health and provide a safe learning environment.”

At Cullman Middle School, students will continue to attend school traditionally five days per week — though their schedules will be adjusted to minimize exposure as much as possible. Essentially, students will remain with their “zero period,” or home room, class group throughout the day. Students will maintain the same seating arrangement from class to class, so that any potential exposure will be drastically limited to just a handful of students as opposed to a full class. This change is set to take effect Oct. 5 and will remain in effect for at least the second six weeks of the school year.

Cullman Middle School Principal Jake Johnson said they have thankfully only had one positive case of coronavirus on campus, but school has been occasionally disrupted due to quarantining when someone shows a potential symptom or is awaiting COVID-19 test results. So, the decision was made to adjust the schedule so any potential quarantines moving forward would be minimized to a smaller number of students.

“The idea is we’ll be able to drastically reduce the amount of contact tracing we have to do, with the same students sitting near each other each day,” Johnson explained. “For example, we can reduce a quarantine or exposure group from potentially as much as 30-40 students to six students. We’re looking to do this for at least the second six weeks, and then we can compare the data on everything from how it affects contract tracing, to student achievement.”

Cullman Middle School currently has 521 total students, with 111 taking the online route for virtual learning.

Cullman City Schools has more than 3,000 students and encompasses Cullman High School (Grades 9-12), Cullman Middle School (Grades 7-8), East Elementary School (Grades 2-6), West Elementary School (Grades 2-6), and Cullman City Primary School (Grades K-1). Cullman City Schools also hosts the Cullman City Head Start Program. Cullman City Schools consistently ranks as one of the top school systems in College ACT scores in the state of Alabama.