The Lee County and Lanett school systems have joined the growing list of districts that are pushing back the start of the 2020-21 school year as Alabama continues to battle COVID-19.
It’s a trend that has Gov. Kay Ivey concerned about the state’s children spending too much time away from their teachers.
“I want to encourage every superintendent, every principal, every teacher and every parent who’s listening, we don’t have the luxury of not getting our young people back in school,” Ivey said. “While I respect those districts that have elected to go to virtual classrooms, I feel with all my heart that a slide will come by keeping our kids at home, especially if there are other options. And that slide is likely to have a dramatic negative impact on Alabama’s future.”
Most local school districts declined to address Ivey’s comments Wednesday when contacted by the Opelika-Auburn News.
However, Mark Neighbors, superintendent of Opelika City Schools, issued the following statement:
"Our plans are to begin both traditional school (with face-to-face instruction) and full-time virtual school (for those that have chosen that option) on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020.
"We have worked tirelessly over the summer and taken additional measures as recommended by the Alabama Department of Public Health to clean our schools and to modify our classroom layouts and procedures so that our students and teachers return to school as safely as possible."
Lanett City Schools announced Monday that all students will spend the first nine weeks of the school year with remote instruction.
“We realize that this year will be filled with many challenges as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Superintendent Jennifer Boyd wrote in the district’s 2020-21 school year plan.
Unlike virtual learning, remote instruction during the first nine weeks of the school year (from Aug. 24) will include zoom classes and other forms of remote instruction led by Lanett City Schools teachers, according to the school district.
Parents have two options to choose from, virtual learning or traditional. The former will work solely online and be enrolled in the Lanett Virtual Program; the latter will be in classrooms with teachers. Parents have until Saturday to complete the LCS Student Learning Options to choose how their children will be schooled after the first nine weeks.
Parents then will have until Sept. 8 to decide if the virtual learning program is right for their child for the whole year.
Students who need devices for virtual or remote learning may receive them upon request after completing the school system's paperwork.
The Lee County board of education voted Tuesday to start the year "with remote learning for all students, in addition to delaying the start date for students until Aug. 17," according to a announcement release by the district.
The announcement cited concerns about the health and safety of students, their families and district employees, citing the latest information from East Alabama Medical Center and state health officials.
"This decision has not been made lightly. It has been made with full awareness of the ramifications," the announcement further states. "It is our intention, when conditions warrant, to reopen schools for traditional, in-person learning in the safest manner possible.
"Should health conditions improve, we have a target date of Sept. 9, 2020, for consideration to offer an alternating day 'soft' reopening with staggered attendance. More specific details regarding this approach will be shared closer to implementation.”
District employees will return to work as originally planned.
Scott Harris, the state’s health department director, stressed that masks are essentially to whatever in-person working or teaching plans school districts are planning.
“As we begin to move towards school re-openings, it’s going to be more important than ever that people be willing to wear face coverings if we want our schools to minimize the number of cases they have, minimize outbreaks and risk of closing again,” he said. “We really need people to cooperate with continuing to wear face coverings. It’s really more important now than ever.”
Ivey acknowledged her concerns for school employees at risk of COVID-19 exposure.
“Well, everything’s got to be done at the local level. Decisions are made in that regard. Certainly, we want our teachers to be safe as we do our workers at the schools, much less our students,” the governor said. “So it’s a work in progress and we’ve just got to use good commonsense and, for those schools that are going virtual for the first nine weeks, my message to them is to do all you can and as things begin to improve a little bit, begin to phase back in other students and open up some of your attendance in the classroom in school.”