MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama State Department of Education’s superintendent spelled out recommendations for students to go back to the classroom this fall, but stressed that the state is not the final decision maker on what individual districts will do.
Superintendent Eric Mackey laid out the district’s roadmap for returning to school in a world where people still have concerns about the spread and impact of COVID-19. The roadmap is the result of 60 experts’ collaboration, but Mackey stressed it was not the answer to everything.
“It’s a guidance document, but it’s not legal device or an ALSDE mandate,” Mackey said. “It’s based on expertise and experience.”
ALSDE posted two separate documents on its website: A large document with technical and other information for superintendents and other school staff, and a smaller document for parents.
Campuses will open for school this fall, Mackey said. Every district is different in terms of how hard COVID-19 has affected their community, so they will have different approaches to how school is run day by day. Rules on face coverings, physical distancing and cleaning and sanitizing will be up to individual districts.
In addition, there will be three different options for students: on-campus learning, remote instruction and blended learning, Mackey said. About 15 percent of parents surveyed said they were hesitant to send their children back to school because of underlying medical conditions either they or a family member had.
The state is also taking steps to make sure internet is available for all students, Mackey said, including making school buses mobile hot spots and getting Wi-Fi access at public libraries.
There also will be changes to extracurricular activities that officials are working toward, Mackey said. For instance, school choirs would have issues with wearing masks and standing apart that choral directors are working on, he said.
And athletics also are working on addressing issues for competitions, Mackey said. Options on the table include cleaning balls whenever gameplay is stopped, and in football, physically distancing crowds and players on the sidelines.
Alabama Department of Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said people should think closely about those events in order to minimize exposure in a setting where outbreaks are likely.
“I think it’s really important for people to manage expectations about the fact that we will see outbreaks associated with these events,” Harris said. “I think that’s likely to happen. I think that’s got to be a consideration as local officials consider how to resume and when to resume.”
Mackey said districts will have assessments in the fall to determine where students stand academically and where teachers need to help them.
“Those assessments are the most important thing we do,” he said. Those assessments also will be given to students learning remotely, he said.
Harris said he believes the education department’s plan is a good plan, but there’s still a risk in resuming activity anywhere at this point.
“I think it’s a very good plan and yet at the same time, I think we’re all aware that we continue to have cases around the state,” Harris said “There’s increased risk as we increase our activity. I think that’s self evident. And yet we understand the importance of trying to return to some kind of normal activity not only in the education world but in other parts of life. So it’s a challenge to balance those. I think that no one really knows exactly what the right answer is. I think we’re trying to make the best decisions we can with the data we have.”
Mackey said superintendents across the state had seen the state’s road map prior to Friday morning’s release and given them feedback. He said on the local level, school boards and administration are getting ready for what he said will be the most difficult school year they’ve ever faced.
“It’s going to be the most difficult school year to get through, but we absolutely are determined to do it,” Mackey said. “And we’re determined to do it not because it’s easy; we’re determined to do it because we have students who are counting on us. So we have to do it, and we will.”