City school system provides update for reopening schools

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The Jasper City Board of Education held a work session on Thursday to discuss preparations for the upcoming school year.

The school board, principals, and other central office leaders discussed, at length, safety precautions and purchases that have been made to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Approximately 550 gallons of hand sanitizer have been purchased for use in city schools, as well as 50,000 gloves for nurses, custodians, etc., and 7,000 gallons of disinfecting CDC-approved chemicals for foggers. 

Jasper City Schools Director of Operations Butch Sargent said sanitation foggers have been purchased for all schools, as well as smaller, handheld disinfecting devices for school buses.

"The big foggers would fog a classroom in two to three minutes," Sargent said. "The handheld foggers look sort of like a paint gun and you would use those on the school bus."

Alcohol-based wipes have also been purchased for school bus cleaning.

Disinfecting sprays and hand sanitizer will be provided for each classroom, and partitions/dividers have also been purchased for classrooms with close seating. Superintendent Dr. Ann Jackson added that several schools are replacing tables with desks in order to further distance students.

The school system has purchased a number of medical supplies to aid in COVID-19 screening and general wellness, including 40 handheld thermometers, stethoscopes, pulse oximeters, blood pressure cuffs, and personal protective equipment for nurses to wear in the event a student has to be isolated for displaying COVID-19 symptoms.

New system lead nurse Penne Mott said it will be critical to monitor students closely for coronavirus symptoms and that she has worked with other nurses in the school system to identify isolation rooms for each city school.

"We have to put on our best assessment skills. If there's any question mark, these kids will be sent for further evaluation," Mott said.

The school system has also purchased:

• 250 clear water bottles. Students are being asked to bring their own water bottles to school since water fountain use will not be allowed. The 250 purchased bottles will be reserved for students who do not have their own water bottle and cannot obtain one.

• tempered glass barriers for each school reception area.

• signage for school buses on safety practices to prevent the spread of germs.   

• two foggers for each lunchroom, as well as plexiglass partitions.

Beckie Martin, child nutrition program director for Jasper City Schools, said sanitizing machines are also being purchased for each lunchroom.

Martin further noted that if students eat in the lunchroom, they should be seated three seats apart for social distancing.

"We're going to do sack lunches every day. We're going to try to make it as enjoyable for students as we can," Martin said. "We're going to be flexible and change as needed."

Whether students will dine in school lunchrooms will be at each principal's discretion.

The school board also announced that a social worker will be hired to coordinate student resources for mental health and wellness needs.

Jackson noted that reported child abuse cases are down in the county, in part because students haven't been able to attend school, where employees can recognize signs of abuse.

Youth Advocate Programs will be assisting the school system as well, regarding mental health needs. 

The mental health of employees is also being considered through an employee assistance program that will provide three counseling sessions for employees and their family members.

Some revisions to the school system's roadmap for reopening schools were discussed during the work session as well.

Jackson said it will now be up to principals on whether to issue lockers.

The school system has also decided to allow remote learning students to participate in a fourth block extracurricular activity.  

"This brings them a lot of hope — participation in these activities," Jasper High School Principal Jonathan Allen said. 

Jackson added, "If it doesn't work, we can always revise that."  

As of Thursday, just over 500 students in K-12 were expected to do remote learning when school starts back on Aug. 20. To break the numbers down, just over 250 students in kindergarten through sixth-grade may do remote learning; 78 in seventh- and eighth-grade; and 175 in grades 9-12. 

At this early stage, officials roughly think maybe 15 percent of the city system's students will be remote learning at the start of the school year. 

Jackson said she hopes students will choose to come to school, if possible.

"I think it's going to be good for kids to come to school. Our kids need our teachers," she said.

The school board didn't end the work session without discussing how sporting events will be held this year.

Jasper City Schools Athletics Director Jonathan Jordan said the Alabama High School Athletic Association has provided some "best practices" to school systems.

"It's very, very fluid," he said.

Jordan said all fall sports are expected to start on time and that occupancy for indoor events will be at 50 percent capacity. He said other large school systems are opting for 75 percent capacity at outdoor sporting events, which the city school system is considering.

Everybody at indoor and outdoor sporting events will be required to wear a mask, and face masks will be available for purchase for those who do not have one. 

Per Gov. Kay Ivey's ordinance, it will be required for people to wear a mask at indoor and outdoor events — and in public, in general — through the end of August. Once the ordinance expires, mask wearing requirements would be at the school system's discretion and or the AHSAA.  

Hand sanitizer stations will be at all Jasper City Schools' sporting events.

Other special precautions have been taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to include the widening of cross country running lanes and the extension of football player boxes. Swimmers will swim in alternate lanes this season, and volleyball players will not swap benches.

Jackson said if cases of COVID-19 climb, a plan has been developed for a full or partial shutdown of schools.   

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