Officials with Chattooga County Schools, in Georgia, announced Wednesday that students and teachers will be in class starting at the end of July barring any public health setback from the coronavirus pandemic.
Superintendent Jared Hosmer sent a letter Wednesday saying the recent results of a districtwide survey and recommendations from the state's health and education departments made the district feel comfortable with opening schools at the beginning of the academic year.
Hosmer told the Times Free Press the responses from parents in the survey were "by and large" in support of going back to school.
"People are ready for their kids to come back to school, and of course they have some concern," he said. "We're going to make sure people feel safe and are taking the necessary steps for parents and students who would rather stay home, and we'll offer virtual lessons for those students."
As it stands now, teachers will return to school July 28 and students will be there on July 30. The Chattooga County School Board voted in February to start school July 30. Last year students started Aug. 1.
"If our community is amid a substantial COVID-19 outbreak at the time school begins, we may have to start with a 'hybrid' instructional model," Hosmer wrote in the letter.
The school system will offer a virtual teaching curriculum for families who don't feel comfortable going to school when it starts up again.
The district — which has one high school, one middle school, three elementary schools and an alternative school — sent out a survey that gauged the interest in and comfort with being back in schools amid the global pandemic.
Hosmer said full results from the survey won't be available until early next week when a staff member is back from vacation, but early results showed strong support for being back in school.
Even though students and staff will return to school, there will be some changes that reflect government mandates and public health guidelines.
Masks for students and teachers will not be required but will be recommended where social distancing is more difficult. Student pickup, drop-off, lunches and recess will all be altered to make sure social distancing is a priority. W
ater fountains will be replaced with refill stations, recess will be limited to outdoor play, playground equipment will be off limits and hand sanitation stations will be placed around each building.
A no-visitors policy will be put in place at all schools. People with appointments will be allowed in the buildings but will be required to wear face masks, will have their temperatures checked and will be asked screening questions.
Chattooga County Schools' plan includes a traditional path and three "hybrid" paths. The first hybrid path will be a 4-day school week where students come to school Tuesday through Friday. Mondays will be used as deep cleaning days at each school.
In the second phase, the student body at each school will be split into two groups. Each group will attend school two days a week and learn from home on Fridays. Mondays will still be cleaning days.
The third phase — if necessary — will have students coming to school every other week while split in the same two groups.
"We feel like as of today, based on the information we have currently, we can come back to school safely," Hosmer said. "If data changes or public health experts advise us between now and then to step back, we'll go with one of the hybrid models."
Hosmer added the district put together a reopening task force and after talking to public health and education experts, Chattooga County fell on the "minimal" risk scale based on current confirmed COVID-19 cases.
As of Wednesday afternoon there are 62 confirmed cases.
Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin @timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.