Masks will be required; Most parents choose classroom option
By Fran Thompson
Baldwin County Public Schools Superintendent Eddie Tyler, for the third consecutive Thursday, held a press conference today to provide updates about the system’s return-to-school plan on Aug. 12.
Tyler said 85 percent of parents have chosen to send their children to “brick and mortar school.”
The update clarified the BCSD’s policy for students returning back to school after either being diagnosed or being sent home as being suspected of having COVID-19.
Students must either present a signed doctor’s note clearing them to return, a negative COVID-19 test result or remain away from school for 14 days and have been clear of fever for at least three days without medication.
The CDC does not currently recommend universal testing to admit students or staff into school and neither will BCSD.
It was the third and final press conference until teachers return to school on August 3.
“I have spoken with board members and principals on a daily basis and there are no discussions about a delay. I can also assure you that if one is going to happen, I will let you know immediately by rapid notification.’’ Tyler said.
Tyler said the district has heard from national and local pediatric groups, health officials, educational experts and parents stating that children need to be back in school.
“Our charge is to do this safely, balancing those needs carefully, but dutifully, to ensure those who are dependent on us will be served,’’ he said.
Schools will implement as much social distancing as possible in traditional schools.
• Masks will be worn at all times.
• Hand sanitizing and washing will be directed frequently.
• All buildings & equipment will be disinfected with a hospital-grade product daily.
• Children in classes in traditional school will being tracked digitally.
• Teachers and administrators will complete professional development in new digital requirements for distance learning.
• Students’ work, assignments, lessons and studies are posted and will be available digitally on Google Classroom each day.
“If a parent thinks we should close school, then they should enroll in virtual school,’’ Tyler said. “It is the same option as closing school whereby your child will be at home and their educational needs will be provided virtually with minimal contact from others.’’
Students who can’t come to school will continue to learn in the district’s new distance learning program. Unlike virtual school, distance learning will be provided if entire schools close or children are sent home sick.
“Time has given us the ability to develop a much more comprehensive, digital instruction and assessment program that will be tracking along the same pacing guide your student is learning from in their classrooms,’’ Tyler said. “As of the first day of school, we are prepared make this move at any moment and without further preparation.’’
Before sending children to school, parents should check their temperature, ask if they have felt ill and make certain they have a mask.
“Throughout a typical school year, we can see as much as 50% of our students out with flu, strep and other illnesses,’’ Tyler said. “This year we have a new challenge – deciphering which is which.’’
A child who is at school sick will be sent to the nurse to be tested for symptoms of COVID-19 which include: new onset cough, shortness of breath by themselves or at least two of the following: fever (100.4ºF or higher), chills, muscle pain, sore throat, loss of sense of smell or taste, and gastrointestinal symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting or nausea.
A symptomatic child will be sent to a wellness area while parents are notified. Student’s absences will be excused while they continue their academic work under the district’s distance learning plan.
Parents will be notified daily when there is a positive COVID-19 test at their school.
“The test results generally come days after the test is given and the test isn’t given until symptoms are present, which can be days after first contracted. As a result, when we notify you that your child may have come in contact with someone, that contact will have happened days or even a week prior to us receiving notification,’’ Tyler said.
Schools will not close and students and employees and students should continue to come to school even after being notified that they may have been in contact with a symptomatic person while at school.
“We are all coming in contact with the virus each day we are outside our homes but we may not know about it,’’ Tyler said. “Because we are already treating our school facilities and operations with the highest level of preparedness expecting this to take place.’’
Tyler said schools are currently designated as essential by Homeland Security, and, as such, should continue operations while ensuring that students and staff remain symptom free.
“Could a parent try to fool us and send a child to school with fever reducing medicine? Yes. Will there be sick children at school who show no symptoms being asymptomatic? Yes,’’ Tyler said.
“This is why we are providing you with an excellent virtual school option. This is also why we are going far and beyond in our new safety protocols to disinfect our facilities with hospital grade sanitizers every night and direct frequent hand washing and sanitizing, implementing social distancing where possible and requiring masks or suitable alternatives.
“We believe the reopening of school is critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many children and families are experiencing additional economic hardships, social isolation, and stressors.,’’ Tyler said.
Tyler said emergency plans to close individual schools or system wide, as needed.
“We can close for a few days to allow for a deeper clean or to allow a hot spot to diminish. We can close by order of a higher government official or because we are convinced that such is in the best interest of our employees, students and our community. We will not make this decision lightly. We respect the situation of our families and the necessity of schools to continue to deliver on the dependency to everyone else in our area. It will be made after consultation with medical, health and government officials and for something much greater than what we are facing today.’’
Pictured: The City of Orange Beach Public Works Department crew install beautiful palm trees at the entrance to the city’s brand new high school and middle school campus; volunteers from Anchor Point church spruce up classrooms at Foley Elementary School in anticipation of the Aug. 12 shool opening.