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Buses will run,
but parents may
be urged to drive
children to school
Public school and public health officials in Grady County are meeting today to talk about safely opening local schools for classes in the midst of a pandemic. State school officials released guidelines Monday outlining steps local schools should take to prevent the highly infectious virus from entering classroom environments and to curb its spread if an outbreak occurs.
Grady County schools and those around the state closed in March as concerns ramped up over coronavirus, and students were left to finish the remainder of their spring semester coursework via online means. or paper packets
The 10-page guideline document released Monday leaves it to school districts whether to close school buildings in the event the virus spreads. It also calls for districts to participate in contact tracing with state health officials, place educational signs on good hygiene in school buildings and decide how to handle students and teachers who show symptoms of the virus.
Dr. Kermit Gilliard, superintendent of Grady County Schools, says the plan currently is to follow the calendar adopted by the local board of education for the 2020-2021 school year, which would mean students would report for their first day of classes on Aug. 3.
“All of this is fluid,” Gilliard says. “Lots could happen between now and August that could change that.”
Just how students get to the school building is a concern, Gilliard says. The school system operates 45 bus routes, and each bus is rated to carry 72 students, which means three passengers per seat. Gilliard says usually, the buses are filled with at least two passengers per seat, a situation that would make social distancing impossible.
“I am considering recommending parents transport their children to school,” Gilliard says. “I want parents to know we’ll be cleaning the buses after the morning run and after the afternoon run, but I can’t guarantee that your child won’t have to sit with somebody.”
Each school building will also be sanitized daily, Gilliard says. “We plan to spray every room every day as part of the cleaning protocol,” he says.
In addition, hand sanitizer will be available at school entrances, and cafeterias while hand washing will be highly encouraged.
Plans now are to allow students to wear masks if they provide them. Gilliard says if the school system had to provide them, it would be a prohibitive $4,600 daily expense.
Once at school, it is recommended that students go to one classroom and remain there all day, including for lunch. Gilliard says while that is possible for elementary and middle school students, it is impossible for the high school. In the lower grades, teachers could move from one classroom to the next, if necessary.
Still, that is a challenge. “Children need movement,” Gilliard says.
Another question, how will the system handle faculty and staff who have medical issues? “We can’t afford for them to get sick,” Gilliard says.
Large gatherings such as assemblies or pep rallies will be prohibited.
There are many questions that the system is working through, and will seek parental input in the coming weeks.
“We will ask parents to do a survey and see what their preferences are so we can further plan,” Gilliard says.
For those who do not want their children in a traditional school setting, there is the standard virtual school option, which has been offered for many years through the school system. However, if enough children opt out of the traditional classroom setting, it’s possible that Grady County School teachers could provide the virtual instruction.
The school system is working to purchase laptops and iPads to make sure each student has access to one at home. Hot spots are also being negotiated to ensure all students also have access to the internet.
Should an outbreak of COVID-19 occur, Gilliard says the Centers for Disease Control has guidelines that suggest closing the school for two to five days to clean and disinfect, thus moving the learning online while it is closed. Just one case could result in the closure of an entire school, he says.
The guidelines released Monday note the ways for school districts to shift to online learning in the event of an outbreak, as well as to take a “hybrid” approach allowing districts to blend in-person and online learning. If the virus spreads at a “moderate” level, the guidelines advise schools to screen students and staff before they enter buildings and to require students to keep space between each other in cafeterias, classrooms and hallways.
Gilliard says he is hoping Wednesday’s meeting with local health officials will help shed more light on the planning for the upcoming school year.