Alabama state superintendent asks districts to consider later start date

Alabama News

Alabama’s state superintendent is asking district leaders to consider pushing back school start dates from the beginning of August to closer to the end of the month. Dr. Eric Mackey says he is requesting this of educators so they can prepare for adjustments the state is making to protect students and staff from COVID-19.

COVID-19 brought the country to a screeching halt. For kids and many of their parent, the biggest change was school.

Alabama State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey says the Department of Education is preparing for more twists and turns. Right now a group is working on a 2020-2021 road map that is scheduled to be released June 19. Mackey says he is asking districts to consider pushing back their start dates.

“It just gives you a little more time and if you think, we’re going to start back to school on August first and the road map comes out on June 19th, you literally have about five weeks to get all your plans in place. If you’re looking at starting later in August you might give yourself eight or nine weeks to start. And that’s why we’ve asked them to consider it, but absolutely, it’s a local board decision,” Mackey said.

The road map will take on curriculum, community engagement,  special education, sports, extracurricular activities, and mental health.

“There will be some recommendations around mental health because we know that it’s likely students are going to return to school, many students, not all of them, are going to return to school with some trauma because of the stress that’s been placed on them and on their families during this prolonged time,” Mackey explained.

They are also seeking guidance from the Department of Public Health on what to do if a positive case happens in a school

“What would be our first step, second step, third step in hoping that we could mitigate the spread, but also that we could do contact tracing in an orderly fashion, that we could maintain HIPAA requirements and any privacy concerns,” he said.

Mackey says it’s likely there will be limitations on activities next year which means the possible cancellation of out-of-state field trips. That could include sporting events.

“No determinations have been made certainly about our championships. Our hope is that we will not interrupt our championships and they will move forward. There is a possibility that we may limit out-of-state competitions,” Mackey stated.

He says this idea could help with contact tracing.

“I think any of the travel out-of-state or of other teams coming into the state may be limited. That’s not saying that it would not exist at all, but certainly we have to think about the size of some of our tournaments. We have some tournaments that teams travel to that may draw 40 or 50 teams from multiple states and when you’re doing contact tracing, which is something we’re really working hard to get ahead of, so if there’s a positive case we can do contact tracing. Well, obviously that’s much more difficult if you’ve been to a tournament in say Nashville where there were seven states participating than if you were just playing with three other schools in the county,” he said.

School visitor policies could also change.

“For instance one of things we’re looking at and talking to other states about is if you have visitors on campus do you require them to say wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before they actually enter the building,” he explained.

Mackey says COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of students being able to learn at school with a teacher. He says, at this time, he doesn’t think students will notice very many changes inside their classrooms next year. 

WHNT News 19 knows of at least one North Alabama district planning to address changing their start date.

The Madison County School Board will discuss this idea Thursday night. However, a representative from the district says no decisions will be made regarding the schedule during that meeting.

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