MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - “This will be the most difficult school year that we have ever faced,” admitted Alabama State School Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey Friday morning as he laid out the road map for reopening schools for the coming year.
The ALSDE is navigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has created a nearly 50-page plan called the “Roadmap to Reopening Schools” for the next academic year. Mackey said the plan is very technical and was created primarily for school administrators. However, a simplified parents’ guide has also been prepared.
Mackey said the state education department is encouraging districts to start their academic year later, though he added there is not a specific date each district needs to have a plan published by. Additionally, school districts can make the decision to close or reopen buildings throughout the year.
[READ MORE: Local systems begin to react to state’s roadmap]
“We know many challenges lie ahead, but it is the intention of the [ALSDE] that all schools reopen this fall under the following guiding principles,” the department said. Here’s a look at those guidelines through the ALSDE’s parents’ guide:
“Every school is going to look different,” Mackey stated, adding that no two schools will be the same.
Even though all the state’s schools will reopen with traditional classes, there will be online learning options for those who want to keep their children home Mackey said, adding that about 15 percent of f parents had indicated they don’t want to send their students back to the classroom yet.
The superintendent also reminded citizens that the roadmap could change depending on the pandemic. Alabama continues to see a growing number of coronavirus cases.
In regards to extracurricular activities, Mackey pointed out that some activities can be done with a mask on and with social distancing but choir, for example, is not among those. He said teachers are working to figure out these issues.
The same issues have to be worked out for sporting events, which will also look different. There will be a need to find ways to spread out crowds, and leaders are looking at ways to make sure sporting equipment is constantly clean.
Asked about bus transportation becoming a major concern of outbreaks due to the enclosed spaces, Mackey said about half of students use them and parents need to screen their students and not put them on the bus if they are experiencing symptoms.
State Health Office Dr. Scott Harris said the Alabama Department of Public Health is making several recommendations that call for smaller groups over larger ones, outdoor gatherings, and short duration events over longer ones.
Thursday, the Alabama Education Association released 22 expectations for reopening Alabama schools. AEA says the list includes things school systems should consider when reopening schools.
Following Mackey’s presentation Friday, the AEA released a statement saying it was “pleased to see the plan includes many of the expectations AEA President Sherry Tucker released this week.”
But the AEA added that since the roadmap is more of a set of guidelines for local systems and not a statewide mandate, it will “work with each local school district to ensure students and educators have what they need to be safe and successful.”
Mackey previously said the state department was examining several methods including socially distancing classrooms, limiting the number of students and allowing students with health issues to work from home.
State officials have also been working on a virtual school option for the 2020-2021 school year. The Federal money afforded to the state by Congress did allow the state to purchase online programming for local school districts to use but details on a program have not been released.
The end of this past school year students had to do distance learning at home, and Mackey says it went better than expected, but noticed it was only successful when students had the right equipment and a proper internet connection.