In a little over a week, students of Gadsden County will be returning to their classrooms as school begins, Monday, August 31.
After several months of distance learning followed by summer break, many students, parents and teachers are looking forward to a return to normalcy in the classroom – but how normal will the classrooms be?
A 64-page document published by the Gadsden County School District lays out the standards and expectations of the upcoming school year, many of which include social distancing, the wearing of masks and other protective clothing, as well as sanitizing protocols.
All of these new standards are being put in place with one goal in mind: to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the classroom.
Faculty, teachers and campus visitors will be required to wear masks. Students will be asked to wear masks as well, but the school district understands that keeping masks on younger students and students with physical or health disabilities may not be feasible.
Whenever masks are not feasible for student-use, social distancing will be practiced to prevent viral spread.
Parents of young children, or children with asthma or other breathing-related health concerns should look into purchasing plastic face shields for their child to use during the school day.
Parents are asked to not send their child to school without any sort of protective mask.
School staff will be familiarizing themselves with the signs of a possible COVID-19 illness, and any staff member who is displaying symptoms, or has been in contact with someone who could be positive for COVID-19, will be asked to stay home.
If an employee shows signs of illness while at the school, they will be asked to go home.
Whenever possible, staff will meet through virtual conference calls. If staff meetings are conducted in-person, the school will limit group sizes and everyone must stay six-feet apart.
Additionally, teachers and staff are asked to pay attention to gathering sizes when on break, to prevent too many people from gathering in the teacher rooms at once.
Visitors and parents:
Visitors should expect to wear a mask while on campus. Visitors may also be required to undergo a temperature check and answer a COVID-19 questionnaire before entering school grounds.
Visits to the school may be limited to emergency or other relevant needs.
Parent-Teacher conferences may be conducted virtually, rather than in-person.
Parents will not be allowed to walk their children to their classrooms.
The schools and school districts will be limiting the use of shared equipment whenever possible, and when not possible, shared equipment will be wiped down and cleaned after each use.
The schools will be retrofitting each water fountain in the school with a dispenser that fills water bottles. Rather than allowing students and staff to drink directly from the fountain, they will be asked to fill up a water bottle or cup instead.
All unnecessary furniture will be removed in the classrooms so that student desks can be arranged as far apart as possible.
Instead of field trips, the school district is asking teachers and schools to consider virtual programs for student enrichment.
Whenever possible, virtual activities should replace student assemblies, special performances, school-wide parent meetings and pep rallies.
Cleaning and sanitizing:
Keeping a clean campus is part of the key to preventing COVID-19 spread. With that in mind, common areas, work stations, and frequently-touched areas (such as light switches and door handles) will be sanitized regularly.
The school district will ensure that stations with hand sanitizer are set in place around the schools.
Vehicles, included buses, will be sanitized daily.
All bus drivers will be required to wear masks while transporting students.
Since social distancing is not always possible on a school bus, after each route a bus will be sanitized and disinfected.
The district will provide hand sanitizer for students and bus drivers and a supply of masks if a student does not have one upon entry to the bus.
There will be protocols for bus stops, loading and unloading students to minimize congregation from different households.
Spaced seating will be used whenever possible.
If a student has COVID-19 symptoms, the student will be immediately referred to the school clinic, or where staff will determine next steps to follow with the local health department.
If a student is out of class due to COVID-19, the school may disclose that a student (without releasing names) is absent due to COVID-19 – but only if other students are absent as well.
If a school determines that parents or other students need to know an ill student or staff member’s name to protect the health and safety of other children, the school can give a sick student’s name to other students and parents.
If a student contracts COVID-19, they will not be able to return to school until cleared by a physician; absences will be excused and the student will be allowed to make up any missed assignments.
Ashley Hunter, editor