Superintendent Dr. Jan Harris quoted psychiatrist M. Scott Peck who said, “The best parents suffer through their decision making.” As a parallel to that Dr. Harris said, “We have suffered through our decision making.”
Harris presented a first look at the two education options available for students returning to school in the fall to the Dade County Board of Education at a Special Called Meeting Wednesday night.
“We have been focusing on our sweet children, but to be more transparent we’re focusing on the betterment of the United States,” Harris said. “We feel this country is counting on teachers and principals to get this country started economically and in every way.”
Option number one is Traditional School. Students returning to traditional school in the fall will not be required to wear masks at this time, but that could change. Students will be encouraged to wear masks and those in classes with medically vulnerable children or medically vulnerable teachers may be asked to wear a mask in those classrooms. Students will report directly to their classrooms each day, those who eat breakfast will eat in the classroom, lunch will be served in the lunchroom at half capacity with more lunchtimes offered, and some students, like those who are medically fragile, eating in their classrooms. Social distancing of three to six feet apart will be done when feasible, but can not be guaranteed at all times. Students will have individual supplies and be assigned individual technology devices.
Students are encouraged to bring their own water bottles and water bottle filling stations have been installed in every school. In order to maximize ventilation, windows will be open when possible, the HVAC systems are being evaluated, and new systems and equipment to help maximize airflow have been installed where needed. Students will be encouraged to use hand sanitizer, hand soap, and paper towels as well as teaching them hand hygiene, reminding them to cough into arms instead of hands or the air, and reminding them about social distancing. No assemblies, no large gatherings and no field trips for now. No visitors allowed in the school for now – pickup, dropoff, and signout procedures will be posted by individual schools. Any student or staff member with a temperature of 100.4 F or higher will not be allowed to enter the classroom and be sent home with students being isolated until they leave.
At the elementary level there will be minimum classroom transitions, so students who switched classes during the day before will remain in the same classroom now and if needed, teachers will switch classrooms instead. Elementary students will also be allowed recess, but no toys can be brought from home.
Option number two is Dade Virtual School. Based on information and feedback returned by parents regarding distance learning at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, Harris said she and the team have been working to pick a course management software. They have narrowed it down to one choice, but are still looking at that software option and plan to present the course management software for board members’ approval at the July 20 meeting. The course management software will track how often and how long students are logged into their classes and notify parents and teachers by email when they are not in class. The software will also allow the schools to set a start and end time for working on classwork, blocking students from coursework after hours (example: no coursework from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.). Patty Johnson, a former high school principal, has been named principal for Dade Virtual School and will work with virtual school students, other school principals and teachers. Parents who intend their students to attend Dade Virtual School need to enroll their students in the Virtual School online. Students who attend Dade Virtual School are still enrolled with Dade County Schools and count toward all the system’s numbers and can still participate in athletics and band.
There will be a five-day grace period beginning August 7, the first day of school, in order for students to move from traditional to virtual or virtual to traditional. After the five-day grace period, elementary students will be required to stick with their learning option for nine weeks and middle school and high school students will be required to stick with their learning option for a semester before moving to the other option.
Buses will still run, but students riding a bus to school will be required to wear a mask as social distancing on the buses will not be possible. Students will have assigned seats and family members will be grouped together. The school system has purchased state-of-the-art equipment, according to Harris, to mist and disinfect rooms, buildings and buses according to CDC guidelines. Harris shared that 19% of parents whose children rode the bus last school year have said they will be bringing their children to school this year. General Bob Woods pointed out that with the number of students already coming to school by car, the school system may need to consider an earlier drop off time in order to get all the cars through school drop off and pick up lines. Harris said they have talked about staggering start times and other options and that is one of the things still on the planning list. Dr. Harris said they are warning families to expect delays and that their goal right now is to get a plan and framework in place to get everyone in school.
More detailed information on the 2020-2021 school year guidelines will be available on the Dade County Schools website at dadecountyschools.org. Information on the Open House schedules and online enrollment for Dade Virtual School will be on the site as well. Harris warned that guidelines could change at any time, whole classes could be sent home for a week at a time, and even as late as Wednesday afternoon they had received more guidelines for schools from the Governor’s Office and the Georgia Department of Education (GADOE).
“We have to continue to be flexible because that is what is required of us,” Harris said.
The video of the Special Called Board Meeting can be viewed below.