Officials with Dade County (Georgia) Schools are moving forward with a plan to have students in school for the fall semester.
Superintendent Jan Harris said the school district's plan is to have in-person instruction, but the system will have a back-up plan in place for virtual learning if evidence of the coronavirus' spread is seen as dangerous.
"We have a plan, but I will say right up front, we want our children to be in school," Harris told the school board this week.
The idea to head back to school is based in part on surveys of both parents and staff members. A poll of parents in the district showed 87% of them plan to send their kids to school.
A survey of 150 teachers in the district showed a majority of teachers are somewhat to not at all worried about the coronavirus' impact on them personally as they prepare for the fall semester.
"To be completely transparent, we're focusing on the betterment of the United States of America," Harris told the school board Wednesday night. "We feel this country is counting on teachers and principals to help get this country restarted economically. In every way, people are concerned about the mental health of people who are not in their normal routine."
Students will be required to wear masks on buses but not in schools. Masks will be strongly encouraged where social distancing is not easy, and, as with everything amid the current pandemic, the mask rule in schools can change, Harris said.
Students who are served breakfast will eat in their classrooms and additional lunch periods will be added to make sure enough space is available to social distance. Students and teachers who are considered medically fragile or at risk will be "encouraged" to wear masks.
Hygiene protocols will be updated and strict, new water bottle filling stations have been installed, windows will be open as much as possible at each school, and field trips and assemblies will all be put on hold for the time being.
The back-up plan will have students learning from home. The district has chosen a software system that will track how often students are logged in and for how long. The software can also notify parents and teachers when students are not in class.
The district has hired Patty Johnson, a former high school principal, as the principal for "Dade Virtual School," which will be an extension of the district.
Online and remote learning has proved to be ineffective nationwide as millions of students were forced to learn from home when schools started to shut down. Now districts are coming up with a more comprehensive strategy in case any part of the fall semester must be taught from home.
School in Dade County is scheduled to begin Aug. 7. Once school starts, students will have a five-day grace period to choose either the traditional route or the virtual one. Once the grace period is over, middle and high school students must stick with their decision for the semester and elementary students must stick with theirs for nine weeks.
All these plans could technically change depending on how severe the spread of the coronavirus is come fall.
Chattooga County Schools announced it also is planning to resume in-school instruction in the fall.
Contact Patrick Filbin at email@example.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.