The Walker County Board of Education unveiled a plan late Thursday for reopening schools, emphasizing a number of measures that will be taken to protect students and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like many other school systems, the Walker County BOE previously announced traditional school will be held, beginning Thursday, Aug. 20, and parents will also have the option of allowing their children to learn remotely through state-provided virtual learning platforms.
According to Superintendent Dr. Joel Hagood, who detailed the reopening plan in a video shared to Facebook on Thursday, 61 percent of parents have indicated they will send their children to school, while 42 percent prefer remote learning for their children.
In order to keep campuses thoroughly clean and sanitized for students who will attend traditional school, Hagood announced schools will be closed each Wednesday until further notice once school starts. The closing will allow for a mid-week deep cleaning, and students will study remotely each Wednesday.
On-campus procedures will vary at each school, but the temperatures of all students and staff will be checked each day. Hagood said the school system has invested in infrared thermometers for each school to use.
Those who have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or greater will be quarantined until a parent can pick them up from school.
Hagood stressed that parents should be diligent to monitor their children for signs of illness and should not send children to school if they have a fever.
"The first and best line of defense is mom and dad at home," he said.
The reopening plan further states that parents should notify their child's school if the child has symptoms of COVID-19.
Facial coverings are also being "strongly encouraged" for students and staff; however, if the current state mandate requiring mask wear is extended, students and staff would be required to wear masks.
"I strongly encourage you to wear one to be respectful of your fellow man and to help stop the spread of COVID-19," Hagood said.
To further protect students, hand sanitizing stations will be provided throughout all schools and frequent hand washing will occur.
As far as transportation to school, bus drivers will be instructed to monitor children for symptoms of COVID-19, and parents are being asked to not let their children on a school bus if they have a fever.
Students and bus drivers are also being encouraged to wear a mask or other facial covering during transportation.
Hagood said some buses will load back to front and unload front to back, and riders will be assigned seats.
Hand sanitizer will be on all school buses, and drivers are being supplied with cleaning supplies.
Just as bus rides will be different, so will school lunchtime.
Each school's administrator will decide how best to manage student dining, which may include social distancing in the lunchroom or students may be required to eat at other areas on the school campus.
Students are also being asked to bring clear water bottles, in lieu of water fountain use.
Other daily school operations will be impacted as follows:
• Field trips will not occur until further notice.
• Visitors will not be allowed on campus.
• Students will not be issued lockers at this time.
• Social distancing will be encouraged, when practical, and assigned seating will occur in classrooms.
• Students who are developmentally challenged or have other specialized learning plans will have the opportunity for learning plan revisions to accommodate them during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Technology has been a major topic of discussion as schools across the country finalize reopening plans, and the Walker County BOE previously announced investing in mobile hotspots for student use in rural areas of the county.
Hotspots will be in school parking lots and strategically placed at other landmarks in the county in order for students to have Internet access for remote learning.
"I don't want to promise this at this time, but we are looking at other avenues where we could possibly purchase a number of hotspots for the Chromebook you're assigned to," Hagood said.
A Chromebook or laptop will be provided for all students who do not have their own computer device, and if the school system could purchase hotspots for individual Chromebooks, the hotspots would be for free and reduced lunch students and those in outlying areas.
A technology fee will also be required for the 2020-21 school year.
Hagood said the school system's overall plan for reopening schools is subject to change, based on guidance from the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Alabama State Department of Education.
The full plan is provided in detail at www.walkercountyschools.com, and people may call the Walker County Board of Education at 205-387-0555 for further questions.
"It will not answer all questions," Hagood said of the plan. "That is just simply impossible to do. Nor does it constitute legal advice. What it is, is a concise and practical plan to reopen our schools."
For more education news from the Daily Mountain Eagle, visit http://www.mountaineagle.com/education.