On Monday, Aug. 3, the State of Alabama issued new guidelines for the reopening of schools, which threw a wrench into Enterprise City Schools’ plans.
The new guidelines state that anyone that has been in close contact – regardless of whether they are wearing a mask or not – for a cumulative of 15 minutes during the day with a person that has either tested positive for COVID-19 or has been sent home due to suffering from two or more symptoms of COVID-19 must also be sent home for 14 days.
The symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough, sneezing, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of taste, body aches and loss of smell. Previously “close contact” with a person was considered 15 minutes at one time within six feet without a mask and that was eventually altered to 15 minutes at one time within six feet with a mask. Now, anyone within six feet of a person with or without a mask for a cumulative of 15 minutes over the entire day is considered “close contact” and all of those people will be sent home for 14 days before being allowed back to school, with or without a negative COVID-19 test.
According to Enterprise Superintendent Greg Faught, the Alabama Department of Public Health and State Department of Education emphasized these new guidelines were not a mandate but said that the school system needs to treat it as such.
“It’s not a mandate but none of our people feel comfortable ignoring guidance from the CDC or ADPH regardless of what we think of it personally,” Faught said. “I don’t think it would be prudent to not treat it as a mandate.”
ECS is scheduled to reopen on Aug. 6 and still plans to do so but these new guidelines will likely force a change in the near future.
Faught said that the school submitted its plan for reopening last week to the state department and it was approved only for these new guidelines to come down this week.
“I don’t blame anyone for this but the time of the way we received this is unfortunate for us,” Faught said. “It’s definitely the prudent thing for us to relook at our plan and address those (new guidelines) and maybe come up with something even better.”
Faught said that the school system is currently reevaluating its plan and will likely revise the school plan to a blended approach for those students that are planning to attend on-campus. That new blended approach would see half of the student population attend on-campus school on Monday and Wednesday and then utilize virtual learning on Tuesday and Thursday. The other half would do virtual learning on Monday and Wednesday and come on-campus Tuesday and Thursday. All students would utilize virtual learning on Fridays. Additionally, teachers would teach from their classrooms regardless of whether it is an online course or on-campus.
“This new guidance that has been handed down is going to force us to change the way we do school coming up,” Faught said. “I want parents to anticipate that we may have to change very quickly to a blended approach in order to achieve these new guidelines. “
Faught reiterated that ECS will continue on with its plans for school reopening as scheduled but wanted parents to be aware that a change will likely be coming sooner rather than later.
“I think if everyone is masked up I think it’s still a safe environment for our kids or else we wouldn’t be doing it at all,” Faught said. “My big thing is that eventually a lot of healthy kids are going to have to be sent home because we can’t enforce that 6-foot rule at all times in the classroom.
“We can’t sit around and wait too long to see what kind of impact this will have either. As a parent I would be pretty upset if my child got sent home and they were healthy.”
ECS Nurse Sue Wagner agreed that she believed the plan ECS had to return to school was a good one but it would be almost impossible – given Enterprise’s student population – to continue on the same path with the new guidelines.
Faught said that he still believes that the best place for students is the classroom and that is why the school is leaning on the blended approach and Wagner agreed.
“I feel confident we can meet the new guidelines that way,” Faught said of the blended alternative. “I always say being in school is better than not being in school instructionally but we have to keep people safe and certainly don’t need to remove healthy students from the learning environment for 14 days at a time.”
ECS will make a decision in the coming weeks as to what new, alternative plan will officially be adopted.