What will school be like when it resumes August 10?

Parents always have questions for their student’s teachers and school administrators at the beginning of a new academic year, but with such drastic changes to the learning structures this year due to COVID-19 (coronavirus), principals, teachers and school district staff have been flooded with more community inquiries than usual.

In a coordinated effort with School Superintendent Dara Bennett, The Blackshear Times attempted to answer many of those concerns last week with a daily question and answer (Q&A) session posted to The Times’ Facebook page and website. The Q&A will continue through today, July 29.

Published here are Bennett’s responses to some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs). For the full list of The Times’ Q&A visit www.theblacksheartimes.com or The Times’ Facebook page.

FAQs: School reopening

Question: What will be the safety precautions inside the classroom to maintain social distance requirements?

Superintendent Dara Bennett: Our teachers do an outstanding job in their classrooms, and they will do everything in their ability to arrange their rooms and student desks to distance students to the degree the space will allow. School administrators are currently working to ensure class size is as low as possible by making all classes as even in number as possible. We are following the guidance set forth by the GA Department of Education (DOE) as well as guidance from the Department of Public Health (DPH) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

• Student and staff seating will be separated as much as room space will allow. (Spacing of 6 ft is optimal.)

• Desks will be arranged so  students are not facing each other.

• Teachers will monitor students for signs of illness each morning as they come into the classroom.

• Thermometers will be made available throughout the building to check temperatures

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of students who appear ill.

• Any student who does not appear to be feeling well/has a temperature of 100.4 should be given a mask if they do not have one and sent to the nurse. The nurse or principal designee will contact the parent to pick up the student.

• Teachers and students will be encouraged to wear a mask anytime they are within 6 feet of others.

• Safety protocol is “soft lock down” where doors stay closed during class. Teachers will make sure their doors are propped open during any class changes or as groups enter/exit to minimize the number of people touching door handles.

• Teachers will use wipes and sprays that will be provided to disinfect student desk tops and chairs in classrooms frequently during the school day, preferably after each class change before another group comes back in, or each time your classroom becomes empty.

• Teachers should encourage students to stay home if they do not feel well.

In addition, general operations of our schools will change to enhance the safety of students and teachers. Some of these general operating procedures are:

• Signage will be posted to communicate how to stop the spread of COVID-19. Signs explain symptoms, preventative measures, etc.

• Masks should be encouraged to be worn by everyone in the building when social distancing of 6 feet is not possible.

• Establish protocol for visitors and restrict nonessential visitors. Restrict any visitors or parents from entering the building past the receptionist area as much as possible. When visitors are permitted to enter, their temperature should be checked and they should be given a mask if they did not wear one.

• Screen students and staff temperatures to the extent practical. Digital infrared thermometers (no touch) will be made available in multiple areas throughout the schools in order to check the temperature of students and staff.

• Isolate and send home students/staff if internal temperature is over 100.4°F (38°C)

• Establish procedures for moving around the building that promote one way flow of student traffic as much as possible.

• Establish lunch procedures and/or schedules that will allow students to distance at lunch to the extent possible.

Question: Will the attendance policy be waived?

Bennett: Attendance procedures will be different for this year. Parents are encouraged to keep students at home if they have a temperature of 100.4 or higher or if they have any symptoms of COVID-19. We know this means that absenteeism will be up this year. There will be no penalty to students for missing school. We ask parents to screen their child each morning and keep him/her home if they are sick.

Question: What would make the school consider going to phase 2 (two days a week school)?

Bennett: The hybrid model of going two (2) days per week will be used when it is the only way we can run our schools. We believe a traditional model is optimal, but getting kids to school even for two days per week is better than no days at all. Throughout this year, there could be times the school system has to close for short periods of 2-3 days, or possibly up to two weeks, depending on the guidance from DPH. There could also be times during the year we implement the hybrid model. We are going to start this school year off with teachers instructing students to put their assignments on Google Classroom and use technology under the direction of the teacher so they will be prepared during periods of closure to receive instruction via Google Classroom. The school system is prepared to provide internet access points and Chromebooks to students who need them if the school system must close for an extended period or more than two weeks or if there is another shelter in place order issued by the Governor.

Question: Will class size be reduced while social distancing measures are being encouraged?

Bennett: School administrators are currently working to ensure class size is as low as possible by scheduling  all classes as even in number as possible. Another factor that will impact class size this year is the virtual option. Right now approximately 10 percent of our total student population has registered for the virtual option thus reducing the number of students in classrooms.


Virtual School

Question: Is the virtual schooling more like an “at your own pace” type of schooling or will there be a specific time frame in place throughout the day? How will it be structured?

Bennett: Virtual school will be a combination of assignments, live instruction on Google Meet or Zoom and there will be established guidelines for the pacing as well as due dates for assignments. The rigor of the assignments will mirror that of face-to-face instruction and the expectation for student mastery will also be the same. Each student will get a schedule of when their teacher or teachers will be providing virtual instruction. The virtual option will resemble the same time requirement of in school learning.

Question: If the student/parents decide they want virtual school this semester and then decide next semester they want face to face, will this be allowed or is it set for the entire year once you make your decision?

DB: The commitment to virtual school is for nine (9) weeks. We will allow students to move from virtual to traditional at the end of each nine (9) week grading period.

Question: With virtual schooling, will there be an option for the student to come to school if they need further assistance from the teachers than they are able to get online?

Bennett: If they are virtual, they will not receive any face-to-face instruction but help will be available through Google Meet or Zoom meetings with the teacher.

Question: Why can’t children who choose virtual learning not participate in extracurricular activities?

Bennett: The school system has provided a virtual option to parents because we realize some parents are not comfortable sending their students to school due to possible exposure to the COVID-19.  You can not protect your child from possible exposure if you require your child to stay home during the school day but then send them to the school to participate in extracurricular activities.  However, if a student begins the year virtually and then transitions back to traditional school, they would at that time be eligible to participate.  At this time the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) is moving forward with athletics, with football having a delayed time. They could announce that fall sports are canceled before the first game. Each day we get additional guidance that results in us adjusting our plan to meet these new requirements. The decision to keep the student at home should be based on what a parent feels most comfortable with at this time. Parents who have additional questions about extracurricular activities should contact their school principal.

• What will happen if we chose virtual school and can’t get on the computer that day, either due to poor signal or weather? Will there be recorded lessons the children can watch at a later time/date to make up for it? Or will everything be done just through a zoom video call during school hours?

Bennett: Virtual instruction will mirror the same rigor, pacing,  and expectations of the traditional classroom and will require the student to work everyday.  Live meetings/lessons with teachers will be during school hours and will be at a scheduled time.  Other lessons may be recorded and can be viewed at any time.  Students and parents will be required to attend an orientation at their home school fully explaining the expectation of the program. Assignments will have due dates similar or the same as the traditional option.  All assignments will be posted on Google classroom.  Progress of students on the virtual option will be monitored weekly.  Virtual parent conferences will be required when students are not making adequate progress.

Health related FAQs

• Question: How will nurses provide care for students who may potentially be carrying the virus?

Bennett: All nurses are being supplied with N95 masks, gowns, goggles and face shields. Each nurse and school principal will determine an isolation room at each school to treat students with symptoms of COVID-19. If it is determined the student should go home, parents will be called and asked to pick up their child as soon as possible. Each school nurse will have a designated person in the building to help them call parents and monitor students while they wait to be picked up from school. Parents will be asked to take their child to the doctor and follow return-to-school guidance given by them. The nurse and/or designee will follow up with the parent to determine what other action, if any, is needed such as quarantine of other students.

Question: Will masks or isolation be required for any child exhibiting possible COVID-19 symptoms?

Bennett: When a student has symptoms of COVID-19, the teacher will give a mask to him/her if one is not already being worn and then send the student to the nurse. The nurse will then determine if the parent should be called and the student sent home. If the nurse determines the student does exhibit symptoms of the virus, the student will be sent to an isolation room with adult supervision to wait for the parent to pick him/her up. We encourage the parent to take their child to their physician and follow the medical advice given to them about returning to school.

Question: How long must students be fever free without medicine before returning to school?

Bennett: If a student has a fever, parents are advised to take their child to their physician and follow the guidance given on returning to school. If the child has a fever and tested positive for COVID-19, the following are the Department of Public Health guidelines (updated 7-20-20) the schools will use for safe return to school:

• At least 10 days have passed since symptom onset and

• At least 24 hours have passed since resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and

• Other symptoms have improved.

 Teachers and staff members who test positive for COVID–19 and have symptoms are to follow the same DPH guidelines. Asymptomatic persons with confirmed COVID-19 can return to school after:

• At least 10 days have passed since the positive laboratory test and the person remains asymptomatic.

Asymptomatic persons who test positive and later develop symptoms should follow the guidance for symptomatic persons.

Question: What is the protocol for if a family member of a student or teacher tests positive?

Bennett: If a family member the student lives with tests positive, the student would have to quarantine for two weeks, following the DPH guidelines. During the time a student is in quarantine, all school work will be made available to the student. There will be no penalty for absences.

Question: Will temperature checks be done on every child/faculty member who enters the school?

Bennett: Each school will have several digital thermometers to check students/staff who appear symptomatic. We will also screen (spot check) student and staff temperatures to the extent possible especially at the beginning of each day. We ask that all parents check their child’s temperature each morning before sending them to school to help us with this.