CMS implements schedule change in effort to limit COVID-19 contacts, reduce contact tracing needs

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Cullman Tribune file photo

CULLMAN, Ala. – Cullman Middle School implemented an updated schedule format this week in an effort to limit COVID-19 contacts and cut down on the amount of contact tracing required among students, and officials say the new system is already making a major impact.

The new schedule system essentially pods students into the same group throughout the day, cutting down crossover between student groups to further limit contacts. The change shifted the middle school schedule to a six-period school day, with students divided into their “zero period” group for the day. Officials say the system allows students to remain in these static groups throughout the school day to minimize the amount of contact tracing needed if a student tests positive or is exposed to COVID-19. Each group rotates through its four core classes, one elective class and physical education class each day.

“It’s going really well so far, and this week let us work out the kinks and get things moving smoothly under the new schedule,” Principal Jake Johnson explained. “Coming back after Thanksgiving break helped, as well, giving everyone a chance to take a break and get some space over the holiday.”

Johnson said contact tracing this week ran much smoother under the new schedule system, which should help reduce the number of students required to quarantine when and if possible exposure occurs.

“We actually had to do some contact tracing this week, and we only had to send seven students home to quarantine as a contact,” he said. “In the past, we’ve had to send as many as 25 to 50 students home to quarantine simply due to contact tracing. So it’s helped for sure in limiting that exposure and allowing students to safely remain on campus.”

The new system has also made some changes to the number of electives students can attend throughout the day, though Johnson said students are still able to attend electives — they just have to fit into the schedule within the new pod groups.

“We have it worked out where they do get to go to their electives, they just may not get to go every day,” he said. “But they’re still able to go on certain days for electives like band, or art, or ag classes — it’s just no longer every day. But they’re still able to attend those classes, which is what’s important.”

Looking ahead to 2021, Johnson said he hopes the new schedule change will prove temporary and the restrictions can be loosened in the coming months — but that all depends on how the COVID-19 pandemic evolves in our state and community. In recent weeks, cases continue to trend up across the state and county.

“I’m hopeful our community numbers get better, and maybe we can go back to our regular schedule after Christmas,” he said. “But right now, this is the best option we have, and we really think it will do a lot of good to minimize our contacts heading into the rest of the school year.”