Hartselle City Schools plans to reopen Aug. 6
The staff and administration of Hartselle City Schools is hard at work to organize a plan for reopening schools this fall, according to Superintendent Dr. Dee Dee Jones.
Currently slated to begin Aug. 6, the 2020-21 school year will be what state superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey called “the most difficult school year (Alabama students and teachers) have ever faced” because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
A roadmap to reopening public schools was the subject of a June 26 press conference that included Mackey and Dr. Scott Harris with the Alabama Department of Public Health. The roadmap offered guidelines for local school systems to follow but did not mandate an official start date statewide.
Mackey said these guidelines and recommendations could change “based on the spread of the virus.”
Jones said every area of how Hartselle City Schools operates, from school bus protocols to lunch schedules and classroom time, will change in some manner.
“It’ll be like it’s never been before – and it’s changing daily,” she said.
The Alabama Department of Public Health, Jones said, will provide the school system with personal protective equipment that will be provided to all students and employees of HCS, as well as any and all substitute teachers. While Jones said face masks and coverings will not be mandatory, they will be available and encouraged, especially in situations when social distancing is impossible.
In an effort to involve the community in the decision-making process, HCS asked parents of Hartselle students to complete an online survey for each student – the survey, Jones said, was designed to help her administration as they put the final touches on the plans for the school year.
According to the survey, students could choose to participate in regular classroom instruction or receive instruction through distance learning. “We respect parents’ rights to choose between in-person or remote learning,” Jones said in an email to parents. “Should we need to close our schools again, we will be ready to shift to remote, online learning for all students.”
For those who choose to send their children back to school, Jones said the district is working on placing devices in classrooms that will amplify teachers’ voices so students can hear their teachers speak despite sitting in desks spaced 6-feet apart.
Jones added that parents are not locked into choosing one platform of learning for their children. “If parents choose now to send their children back to school but closer to Aug. 6 want to change their minds and take advantage of distance learning, they have that option,” she said.
All distance learning courses will be taught by Hartselle teachers, according to Jones, who said students will receive the same quality education that will be taught in person.
“The curriculum taught through distance learning will be the same students would get in the classroom,” she said. “We do not want the rigor and standards we have in Hartselle City Schools to suffer – we want those things to be just as high as they have always been.”
Discussion among parents of Hartselle students is ongoing, with some of that discussion happening on Facebook.
April Borden said her children are going back to school Aug. 6. “Their mental health is just as important as their physical health. They need social interaction,” she wrote. “I have no doubt that Hartselle City Schools will do everything in their power to keep the environment as clean as they can.
“As parents the first line of defense is at home,” Borden added, “with checking temps, teaching good hygiene practices, and listening to your (children’s) complaints on how they are feeling. I have been guilty in the past with not 100 percent believing my kids when they said they didn’t feel good. This go round I will be very cautious for their sake and the wellbeing of others.”
Brandi Kilpatrick said she is afraid the reopening Aug. 6 could exacerbate the pandemic. “All the kids going back to school I fear will be short lived. (A) couple of kids get it, it spreads like wild fire and (school) shuts down again – back to square one,” she wrote. “I think if they pushed the opening back a little longer, most kids would be able to get back in the classroom where they belong, but then we would be in the middle of flu season.”
Dallas Nicholson said her children will be taking advantage of the distance learning platform through HCS. “I would prefer some sort of blended format, but I know the schools and teachers are already overworked,” she wrote. “I don’t feel right exposing the teachers and staff and other kids, at least not while it’s so pervasive in our community.”
In preparation for opening the doors in a month, Jones said every school will have multiple handwashing and hand sanitizing stations, as well as water stations for water bottles, throughout the building. Classrooms will also include plexiglass table dividers and isolation areas for students who show symptoms of sickness.
Jones said while this year will look different, HCS is working to keep the school day as normal as possible. “Parents are concerned that a typical day at school might not include recess and P.E. classes, but we’re working to maintain that sense of normalcy as much as we can,” she said. “In our elementary schools, music and art teachers may travel between classrooms, but when possible, we want our school days to be typical school days.”
Hartselle City Schools head nurse Kelli Morton said now more than ever, parents are asked to keep their children at home if they show any symptoms of sickness. “Every health room will be equipped with a quarantine area for those students who get sick while at school,” Morton said, and children who are sick will be isolated and given a mask or face covering.
“I feel very confident about the amount of PPE supplies we have and the other strategies and safety measures we’re putting into place,” Jones added.