From The Tribune staff reports
TRUSSVILLE — Trussville City School’s Board of Education met in a special-called meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 4. Superintendent Dr. Pattie Neill explained details on plans for reopening schools.
The system made changes to plans for reopening, after an order from Governor Kay Ivey and a recommendation from the Jefferson County Health Department.
School options A, B and C will remain the same, but there will be an added option, option A-Blended. Students in this option will go to school on a staggard schedule. The students will receive two days of face-to-face instruction and three days of remote learning. Option A-Blended is recommended for the first nine weeks, by the Jefferson County Health Department.
In the case of a 50% capacity order, all Option A students would be changed to Option A-Blended. Around 300 students have signed up for Option A-blended.
“We got a memo from the Jefferson County Health Department that wanted us to further reduce building capacity and class size at the middle school and high school,” Neill said. “So, we offered the blended option to comply with that.”
Although adding the blended option will only reduce capacity by less than 10%, Neill said it can be used to help students prepare for a more drastic change, such as switching to online only. When adding the number of students choosing virtual-only, the capacity of the school will be reduced even more.
Neill said the leadership team at TCS discussed staggering all students but decided to begin school with the plans already offered.
“What we have essentially, and I want to say this loud and clear, is a two-week plan,” Neill explained. “The governor speaks Aug. 31, again. So, if we can just get everybody in an option, get everybody back to school, comply with the CDC, the AAP the ADPH, the Jefferson County Health Department, the State Department Roadmap, and the group that we had a webinar with today on school clinics, we have to put all of that together and quite honestly there is some conflicting information inside that.”
Neill said she has seen meetings on coronavirus and reopening schools where some participants have no been able to come to an agreement on issues.
“The best we can do is get something in place for now through Aug. 31,” Neill added.
The superintendent said the decision-making process has not been easy.
“It’s probably been one the most difficult roads that we’ve ever walked together,” said Neill. “Because of the staggering number of varying opinions about what should happen. It becomes personal, it becomes philosophical and sometimes it becomes political.”
Although the Jefferson County Health Department recommended school systems plan for nine weeks, Neill said she would rather plan ahead two weeks at a time.
“Nine weeks hasn’t stayed the same since March 13th, so I would rather take this in chunks,” Neill said. “For two weeks we will give it a whirl, and we will take notes and make adjustments accordingly and I believe that is the best we can do.”
Neill said the leadership team at TCS has tried to offer as many options as possible for parents and students while keeping online instruction at the center of all plans.
“When you take all of our options, the option that drives our plan is option B,” Neill said. “Essentially, the equity in the curriculum offering comes from the Schools PLP plus the enrichment from the classroom teacher or the virtual teacher. Everybody is following B so that students at home get the same quality at home as in school. The only benefit is that you’re in school.
“The assumption is everybody might end up in Option B, so that drives the whole thing and Eric Mackey stood before the superintendents and said, ‘be sure that face-to-face instruction five days a week has a technology component so they will know what to do,” Neill added.
Board member Mark Sims questioned the purpose of adding Option A-blended.
“I mean, the only reason it makes any sense is if you don’t want your child to wear a mask five days a week,” Sims said.
Sims said he was concerned about any extra work that may be put on teachers. Neill said the class roll will be the class roll for every teacher, no matter what options their students are participating in. She also said it will help parents who are unable to be off work on school days.
The main goal of the school system is to stay organized and offer equal instruction to all students, according to the superintendent.
“We’ve got to understand that this is an abnormal year,” Neill said.
In order to help spread out students, some may be assigned to a learning lab or library. The school and items in the school are also being sanitized regularly.
Other school systems, such as Homewood, Hoover, Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills, will start school with a staggered schedule for students. Many schools, including Jefferson County Schools, have delayed the start of school in order to give parents and teachers time to prepare for adjustments.
Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said there is not a one-size-fits-all plan for schools.
In Trussville, teachers will return to school on Friday, Aug. 7. On Wednesday, Aug. 12 through Friday, Aug. 14, students and teachers will participate in a rehearsal for a staggered start. The rehearsal will be for students in Options A, A-blended and C. Option B students will meet their teacher online. The schedule will be in alphabetical order, depending on the student’s last name, for students K-12.
Students will last names starting with A-F will be on Wednesday, G-N will be on Thursday, and O-Z will be on Friday.
Option A students will learn how to use the online platform in case of further health orders from the state or county.
Teachers will be screened daily and will be required to wear masks or face shields. In response to Ivey’s order, students will be required to wear a face covering. Neill is asking all parents to write their children’s names on their masks. Social distancing will also be required.
Each school has new isolation areas for students or teachers with symptoms of coronavirus. Clinics in schools have also been updated to meet state guidelines.
TCS is also asking parents to allow their children to be car-riders in order to lessen the number of students on school buses.
Hewitt-Trussville High School and Hewitt-Trussville Middle School will operate on a 7-period schedule. HTMS will have no flip days.
The board also passed an emergency suspension policy written by attorneys at the Alabama Association of school boards. The policy allows school leaders to waive instructional hours to determine graduation requirements and it allows leaders to make other crucial decisions during a State of Emergency.