Schools around the country and right here in the Valley have been under pressure to get a plan in order for the upcoming school year. As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, parents want to know what’s in store for their children as the school year comes. We met with officials from Huntsville City Schools to get the details of their new school plan.
The first day of schools is quickly approaching, and for students of Huntsville City Schools-- as of now-- that day is August 17th. But, classes will look a lot different this year because of COVID-19.
We spoke with Superintendent Christie Finley of Huntsville Board of Education. She says, “Throughout the plan, regardless of the instructional component, we have to make sure that our students and staff are safe.”
As of now, under the Huntsville City Schools “Reset Plan”, parents and students have two options for the 2020-2021 school year.
- A traditional learning method-- meaning students physically come to school, which could also transition to remote learning
- Or Huntsville Virtual Academy
Finley explains, “Right now, what we know is that we have that stable option which is the Huntsville Virtual Academy and with the traditional option, we have built in a staggered and a remote learning.”
Parents will have to decide soon. The deadline to register for Huntsville Virtual Academy is July 20th. This will give officials an idea of how many students to prepare for.
Regardless of which choice parents make, students can still do all extracurricular activities.
Dr. Jeffrey Wilson, Director of Operations with Huntsville City Schools, says, “The spaces are finite. So, the amount of social distancing that can actually take place depends on how many students are actually there.” He adds, “If you had a class of 20 kids, at nine feet social distance. That’s three feet personal space and six feet apart. That gets you 11 students plus the teacher in a classroom.”
Because there would be limited capacity, and in-person classroom plans can change based on COVID numbers, leaders are urging parents to consider Huntsville Virtual Academy. Dr. Wilson adds,“We’re really encouraging parents to look carefully at the virtual option.”
We're told face masks in Huntsville City Schools are required, not requested, by teachers and students. And we’re told that teachers will conduct daily temperature checks to keep everyone safe.
The “Reset Plan” could be subject to change based on the trend of COVID-19 cases. Superintendent Finley says, “What we know is that the cases continue to rise.”
Students may be struggling with the transition. Officials say mental health is a priority. Superintendent Finley adds, “So, we’re actually going to be giving students a wellness screening within the first four to six weeks of school.”
Teachers have had to make a lot of adjustments in becoming familiar with the virtual learning software.
Students whose parents do decide to send them back to school will see a lot of changes: from social distancing in the lunchroom, to wearing masks on the bus and in class-- even possible Plexiglas instillation for group work settings.
School nurse offices will see some adjustments too, like separate facilities for any students who may show symptoms.
We spoke with Huntsville City Schools Health Services Coordinator, Andrea Penn. She tells us, “We will have a ‘well student’ as well as a health monitoring room.”
Officials ask that parents watch for symptoms in their children constantly-- and in themselves-- before sending them off to school. Penn adds, “...check yourself. If you have a thermometer, check your temperature. Make sure you don’t have a fever.”
Teachers have spent time familiarizing themselves with new online learning software.
Changes have been made within the Special Education division to accommodate students as well.
We talked with Elizabeth Long, Director of Special Education Services with Huntsville City Schools. She says, “If we have a virtual student that the family feels like needs to come in for a one-to-one, face-to-face session, we can definitely accommodate that as well.”