Alabama State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey released the state’s 46-page “Roadmap to Reopening Schools” on Friday, June 26, at a news conference in Montgomery.
Mackey emphasized that this “roadmap” is not a legal document or a mandate for school systems. The “roadmap” features three areas: essential, guidance and consideration. The essential areas are required by law or government orders and are critical practice, while guidance areas are best practices suggested from research and long-term experience but not legally mandated. Consideration areas are additional best practices that are suggested from practical experience and other studies.
The guidance’s put forward to school systems focus on healthcare, transportation, sanitation, child nutrition, physical school attendance, remote learning, state and federal funds spending and more.
Mackey said that while school campuses will be open in the fall, remote learning and blended learning will also be available across the state.
Mackey said that the state received $18 million for education spending in regards to COVID-19 issues and the state has decided to spend the bulk of that money on remote learning curriculum that will be available for every single school in the state, which means that teachers will not have to scramble to come up with virtual curriculum for students.
Blended learning will primarily feature students that are taking classes on campus that are forced to leave campus because of contracting COVID-19 or a student that has been in close contact with someone that tested positive. Mackey said the important thing will be making sure that students can transition from traditional campuses to virtual learning and back.
“Remote learning will be the key to all of this,” Mackey said. “We’ve invested state wide in digital curriculum and many of our superintendents have been using their funds to buy devices, mobile hotspots and we’re planning on helping to put more WiFi on our school buses.”
Mackey said that emphasis is being put on making sure that students and communities that lack high-speed Internet get access to it in case remote learning is needed.
Mackey also said that it would be up to each school board and district on when to open schools and what non-essential measures to take.
Social distancing and facial coverings will not be mandatory but are strongly recommended to be followed when possible.
One essential area that schools will be required to follow is creating a process for students, families and staff that self-identity as high risk for severe illness to address requests for alternative learning arrangements or work re-assignments. It’s emphasized that not all requests are mandated to be met but a systematic procedure to address those requests must be implemented.
Another area of focus that is mandated is revising special need students IEPs with general and special education teachers to “reflect the child’s evolving needs based on assessment data and parent feedback, and design accommodations and match services accordingly.”
During the school year, children that become ill at school should be placed in a designated area of quarantine with a face covering in place. All nurses will be required to wear N95 masks when caring for students, as well. The student’s parent and guardian should then be called to pick the child up. The student should stay home until they have completely recovered according to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s guidelines.
Schools are also asked to encourage parents to check their student’s temperature each morning to ensure that the student does not have a temperature greater than 100.4.
State Health Official Dr. Scott Harris also addressed contact tracing and said that it would not fall on the school to handle contact tracing for students and staff.
“(Contact tracing) is a fundamental function of public health,” Harris said. “It is a major tool for public health for containing any kind of outbreak or pandemic.
“We have continued to do contact tracing through this pandemic and that function will remain unchanged. This is not something that falls on the schools or school officials to do. There is almost certainly going to be cases that occur in schools and that is something that falls to public health.”
Contact tracing is done by investigating every positive COVID-19 case to find out who could be at a high-risk of exposure – meaning someone that has spent more than 15 minutes within six feet of the person – and the ADPH reaches out to any possible high-risk individuals and gives them recommendations and advice how to proceed next.
Mackey emphasized that every school system will likely look different than the others in the way that these guidelines are followed. He said that everything from size of the community, size of facilities and the status of each community in terms of the level of outbreak of COVID-19 will be taken into account.
“Every school is going to look different,” he said. “What we do in a rural community cannot be the same as the way we react in one of our major cities.
“What we do in Greene County will not look the same as what we do in Dekalb County. It will all be different.”
Anyone that wishes to read the entire 46-page “Roadmap to Reopening Schools” can do so by visiting the Google Drive link, at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1mTbUBvGx5iUX69ThgQzF30ZxsuLpUpmF/view.