By Michelle Key
In a relatively brief press conference last Friday, Dr. Eric Mackey, state superintendent of education, and Dr. Scott Harris, state health officer, addressed the plans to bring students back into schools for in-person learning. The plan, named ‘Roadmap to Reopening Alabama Schools’ addresses the overall guiding principals to navigating the challenges that are expected. The plan is to reopen Alabama schools this fall with in-person learning, including remote instruction availability as needed.
According to Mackey and Scott, the following five principles should guide all planning, decision making and execution of plans to return to school in the 2020-2021 school year.
1. Be transparent. Share what is known and what is not known, and be clear about what can be controlled and what is outside of a school’s control.
2. Be equitable. Center decisions on what is best for all students, families and educators.
3. Listen. Bring together diverse stakeholders and experts to understand realities on the ground and to surface creative solutions.
4. Put safety first. Leverage science, data and public health leadership to inform people of choices that are made.
5. Be decisive. Given the size and scope of the challenge, schools must move deliberately and make tough choices. Be willing to adapt when needed and be able to adapt quickly.
Plans for school systems:
“We are trying to make the best decisions we can with the data we have at the moment,” Harris said.
“As we roll the roadmap out, the path forward as we plan for the upcoming school year, now for the local school systems is to develop those on the ground responses, their [local school systems] plan for what that will look like,” Mackey said. “For instance, remote learning; in some communities, about 3% of parents have told us that they will choose remote learning, from day 1… in other communities it’s 80%. So that obviously is a difference in the number of teachers that you’re going to need to do the remote learning. We are encouraging them [systems] to go ahead and be thinking about how many teachers need the professional development to push out that curriculum, to teach those lessons remotely. You can always overtrain.,” Mackey continued.
While discussing plans and procedures for keeping schools as clean as possible, Mackey pointed out that many of the policies may already be in place due to implementing sanitation policies during past flu seasons. “Many of these practices have become more normal to us the past few years because of the flu outbreaks. Public health has been great about helping us think through mitigate of the flu. We have gotten better about thinking about how we mitigate the spread of flu and many of those same practices are things that we will have to put in place on a regular basis this school year,” Mackey added.
Screening for illness:
The screening process has to begin at home. Mackey stressed that parents must screen their children. “We need parents need to check temperature, we need parents to check for symptoms and cough and those kind of things; not put children on the bus, not bring their children to school in a car and drop them off if they are experiencing new onset of symptoms that are unexplained,” Mackey said. “First set of screening starts at home.”
More information on the plans can be found at www.alsde.edu/Documents/RoadmapParentFAQJune262020.pdf.