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Update on school start plans

From school superintendent Dr. Jute Wilson: Trojan Nation, As we approach 5 weeks from the scheduled start date of the 2020-21 school year, we want to take a moment to communicate a few points regarding our current reopening plans. We do want to stress ‘current’ plans, due to the constant change in cases, guidance from state organizations, and input from health officials. COVID-19 continues to be a very fluid situation which will require adaptation, understanding, and patience. In order to avoid miscommunication, confusion and managing multiple changes, we (like many other districts) have avoided the release of detailed plans at this point. However, we do acknowledge parental concerns and want to share a few items with you. Since the onset in March, we have been in constant communication with the state department of education, health officials, state and local superintendents, the school board association, the sheriff’s office, and many others on a weekly basis to address the impact of COVID-19 on our school system. What started as a short-term shutdown to ‘flatten the curve’ turned into a permanent end of the 19-20 school year. We worked through providing curriculum & instruction, meals to students, finalizing grades, graduation, and everything in between. As we wrapped up May, our focus quickly turned to our plan for reopening in the fall. Following the guidance and recommendations of health officials, as well as state and federal leaders, our district has been making plans which align to our county’s level of COVID-19 community spread (as determined by state and local health officials). Our plan is aligned to three tiers: LOW spread; MODERATE spread; SUBSTANTIAL spread. Without diving into details at this point, ‘LOW spread’ would be full face-to-face, traditional instruction in the school building; ‘SUBSTANTIAL spread’ would be full distance-learning with no students in the building. Several blended options exist in between. We are currently, and have been consistently considered a ‘LOW spread’ county, but as you know that can rapidly change. All our scenarios to reopen school with traditional face-to-face instruction include advanced measures to minimize the risk of exposure and infection which include: · All rooms and buses cleaned and disinfected to CDC guidelines (we have the latest equipment and products to provide the highest level of protection). These products will be presented and explained at the July 20 board meeting (which will be live streamed). · Daily rigorous cleaning protocols will be followed for all buildings/buses. · All students and staff will be provided and allowed to wear a mask. · Touch free infrared thermometers are already on site at each campus. · Hand sanitizer (>60% alcohol) will be readily available in multiple locations throughout our buildings. · Large group gathering, guests in the buildings, field trips, will be limited. · We will continue to provide a trained, full-time certified nurse in each school. Our current plan is to return with traditional face-to-face instruction beginning July 31, 2020, but this is certainly subject to change based on our county’s COVID cases. We have continued to invest in our digital platforms, devices, and training; however, well over ½ the students in Lamar County (and many staff) do not have access to the internet at home, excluding cell phone service. Providing an equitable quality remote digital learning option continues to be a challenge in Lamar County, and we are working to address these disparities. Regardless, in the event needed, we will have a distance learning plan in place, if face-to-face learning is not feasible. We will provide additional guidance as we approach the start of school. The learning loss experienced by our students from COVID-19 is real. It’s even earned a name, the ‘COVID Slide’. We work very hard to train and educate the children in Lamar County. All research overwhelmingly supports face-to-face instruction as the most effective model to improve student achievement, not to mention support social, nutritional, physical, and emotional health. We will be in constant contact with local and state leaders and health officials as guidance is updated, and we will adapt accordingly. Stay tuned for Open House schedules which will vary from grade level to grade level and will limit the number of guests for each child, in an effort to reduce social contact within our community. Please take a moment to review the attached link to the ‘Georgia’s Path to Recovery for K-12 Schools’ considerations and recommendations for Georgia’s Schools which was last updated June 19, 2020. Keep in mind, these are recommendations and not mandates. Thank you again for your support, patience and understanding as we navigate through reopening our schools together. May God continue to bless our community, state, and nation.

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