Ivey calls for return to in-person classes; officials and parents respond

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020 issued a statement urging school systems to return for in-person learning. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Governor Kay Ivey)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday issued a statement encouraging school systems using online virtual education to return to in-person instruction as soon as possible.

Her statement read:

“Due to COVID-19, 2020 has been an extremely challenging year for everyone, especially for our parents, teachers and students. I’m extremely grateful for the flexibility everyone has shown as they have adapted to virtual instruction. However, virtual and remote instruction are stop-gap measures to prevent our students from regressing academically during the pandemic. These practices cannot — and should not — become a permanent part of instructional delivery system in 2021. As we are learning more about COVID-19, we are seeing more and more clear evidence pointing out that our students are safe in the classroom with strong health protocols in place.

“There are nearly 9,800 fewer students enrolled statewide in this academic year and a five percent reduction in students on the kindergarten level. This will not only result in a critical learning loss for our students today but will also likely lead to an equally negative impact on the readiness of our workforce in years to come. Additionally, it could have an equally important economic loss that affects the critical funding for our classrooms and teacher units.

“As we begin the holiday season and contemplate a return to a normalcy in 2021, I strongly urge our education leadership on both the state and local levels to return to in-person instruction as soon as possible.

“My Administration will work with Dr. Mackey, all of our local superintendents and the Legislature to ensure that our kids are back in the classroom in 2021. Our employers, our families, our communities, Alabama’s taxpayers, and most importantly, our students, deserve nothing less.”

Meanwhile, earlier Tuesday, when asked for a statement on the current COVID-19 situation in Alabama, State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris told The Tribune in an email, “Alabama has seen record numbers of new cases and hospitalizations over the past several days.  Even though there is hope that our first doses of Covid-19 vaccine may arrive in the next two weeks, we are still months away from having enough vaccine to protect everyone.  So, ADPH continues to encourage every Alabamian to stay home when possible, or to practice social distancing and wear masks when they must be out.  Please protect the most vulnerable people in our state by doing the right things.”

When the Governor’s Office was asked for a comment on why students returning to in-person instruction would be advisable in the face of Alabama’s record-high COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Ivey’s Press Secretary Gina Maiola replied, “I will let the governor’s statement stand.”

Alabama State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey did not respond to The Tribune’s request for a comment.

The numbers

In the last three weeks, 66 announcements have been posted across the state by county or municipal school systems initiating or extending virtual (online only) educational plans, while 12 others started or continued hybrid models. In some cases, multiple announcements were made by the same system as it updated its plan.

Cullman County School and Cullman City Schools, which both continue to offer modified in-person/hybrid education as well as virtual education, have seen their share of COVID cases. In the week prior to Thanksgiving (the last week for which statistics are available), the city system reported 30 new cases, while the county system reported 54 new cases; the area was considered a hot spot in terms of educational systems, while not necessarily for the population as a whole.

Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette told The Tribune, “We’re not fully virtual or fully remote, and I think that’s what she’s basically trying: trying to get those schools that are fully remote to come back to face-to-face. So our goal is to be face-to-face as much as possible, and our (virtual learner) numbers are down. At one point we were up to about 2,000 kids taking classes online, and we’re down to below 800 right now. Hopefully, at Christmastime, even more of those will come back. 

The county system’s middle and high schools are using a hybrid model at least until Christmas. Kindergartners go four days a week with Google Meet online classes on their at-home days.

Barnette added, “As soon as our virtual numbers, if they continue to go down, and the coronavirus cases continue to go down, we want to be back five days face-to-face as soon as possible.”

Cullman City Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan Patterson was not available for comment.

Parents react

The governor’s statement was posted on The Tribune’s Facebook page Tuesday with the following: “What do you think of Gov. Ivey’s recommendation that schools return to in-person learning as soon as possible? Do you agree? Do you disagree? Do you think the record number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state right now should mean schools remain as they are until a vaccine is made available? Or do you believe it’s better for students to return to the classroom now? We want to know your thoughts!”

Reactions from parents were mixed, including (unedited):

Yes schools and everything else should open up and operate like before the covid struck. The sad thing is that many small businesses will not be able to reopen.

The only reason she’s doing it because she’s afraid of losing federal funding.

Yes please!!!! Back to paper & pencil these chromebooks have GOT to go!!!!!!

The schools were flooded with covid and kids having to quarantine due to exposure… How can they even learn anything in that type of environment?

As someone who has worked several years in the school system it is absolutely rediculous to open these schools up as the numbers and deaths are rising. When you are continuously having to have them quarantine, instruction is continuously disrupted. These children shouldn’t be put in an unnecessary situation if it isn’t helping!

My kids are not doing as well with virtual learning.

Disagree…Covid is out of control ..

Literally she is a hypocrite for saying they should return when she closed schools down when it wasn’t even half as bad as it was now. Plus she continues to extend the mask order because it’s unsafe. She should put her money where her mouth is and end it if she thinks it’s so safe.

Agree….kids need structure.

About time!

Considering both of my children’s schools are working with mostly substitutes, I’d say it’s a terrible idea.

If you’re sick stay home. Otherwise kids need to be in school!!

Absolutely 100% agree. This is the smartest thing shes said all year.

I work in a peds office and I’m gonna have to say no. Not a good idea.

I think we need to send her to teach a class room full of COVID kids!!

If kids can play sports then school should be full swing. I don’t believe the basketball team is practicing 6 ft apart on the court.

Back to school! More and more research is coming out showing that kids do not spread COVID. We must stop teaching the children to live in fear. All of us must stop living in fear.

I would say leave it up to the parents that wants them to go in person or visual. It relieves the school and government from responsibility and let the parents make that call.

And one that offers a good summary:

I’m totally glad I don’t have to make these decisions.

 

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com