HCS administrators answer the public's questions about starting school during pandemic

Haleyville City School Administrators, from left, High School Principal Davey Reed, Superintendent Dr. Holly Sutherland, Elementary Principal Christy Bice and Middle School Principal Bo Wilcoxson answer some tough questions from the public during a recent Facebook live forum. Shown recording video of the forum is Chief School Financial Officer Candy Marbutt.

HALEYVILLE   - Many tough and thought-provoking questions were asked by the public to Haleyville City School administrators during a Facebook live forum, where officials were describing specifics of starting school on Aug. 6 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
HCS Superintendent Dr. Holly Sutherland was  joined at the Monday, July 6, conference by administrators at each school in the district, including Christy Bice, elementary, Bo Wilcoxson, middle and Davey Reed, high school.
After each had explained specifics of their Roadway to Reopening Schools plan, the remainder of the meeting was filled with questions submitted online in the forum and asked to them by Cheree Fetter, director of instructional services.
Based on submitted questions, Fetter asked if a teacher or student wakes up with cold symptoms, are they supposed to stay home 14 days, or see if it develops into COVID-19 or upon the receipt of test results.
Dr. Sutherland responded said they would have an entire FB live session based on this. “If your child wakes up sick, we do not want them to come to school,” she said. 
“Usually COVID is paired with a fever, so if they don’t have a fever, they could have a common cold. Just make sure that day that they don’t run a fever without (fever reducing medications).”
In fact, to be on the safe side, a child should be fever free without medications for 48 hours before returning to school, Dr. Sutherland added.
If parents have questions about sending their children to school, they need to call their child’s school nurse, she said.
Fetter then asked based on submitted questions, “If a student or teacher tests positive, will the school shut down?”
Dr. Sutherland responded it would not. “Most likely, that is going to happen,” she added. “We’re not unrealistic to the fact we may have a positive test.”
School officials are waiting on the Center for Disease Control on what they are going to do with contact tracing, in investigation contacts a person testing positive for COVID-19 would have that may affect others.
“Your classroom may close down for two weeks,“ Dr. Sutherland said. “The teacher or student may be out for two weeks, and that will be an excused absence.”
Information school officials are receiving from the state indicates that unless a school becomes a hot spot for COVID-19, they would not close down unless a certain percentage tests positive, Dr. Sutherland continued.
In either case, the classroom where the teacher or student was located, will be shut down for extensive cleaning and disinfecting, she continued.
If a parent feels their child has been exposed, they will be given the option of keeping their child at home for two weeks or until they receive negative results from their test.
Fetter asked, “Will classrooms have less students due to social distancing.”
Dr. Sutherland responded that classrooms are large size with some of those students choosing the stay-at-home or virtual learning method.
“Six feet is not feasible in all of our classrooms, but we will social distance as much as possible,” she said. “Our teachers will wear shields or masks at their preference. We will be sanitizing. They will be cleaning doorknobs. They will have hand sanitizer they will use coming and going from every classroom.”
Dr. Sutherland said it would be difficult to promise that each child would remain six feet apart as in social distancing at all times. 
“We are going to be as clean and as sanitary  as possible, but to say they will always going to be six feet is probably  not going to be truly (the case), but we will social distance as much as possible,” she said.
Fetter read a submitted question of how will this overall pandemic and especially virtual learning, affect the system’s attendance policy.
“It will be definitely different,” Dr. Sutherland responded. 
“If your child has been exposed,  has COVID or you have chosen, because of the exposure, to keep your child at home, as long as they are doing the work and they are logging into the virtual, they are communicating with their teacher,  they are completing assignments, then they will not  be counted as an unexcused absence.”
If the child, however, as a flu, stomach virus and does not keep in contact with the school while absence, they would be counted as unexcused, Dr. Sutherland added.
Fetter read from the questions, “how will students participate in sports, if they choose the virtual learning option.”
“They will be allowed to practice starting at 3 o’clock. They won’t be allowed to practice during the workout time during in-school sessions,” Dr. Sutherland said. These students, in such cases, will need to make that practice up with their teacher and coach, she added.
The question was asked if a traditional day will be a full day with full classrooms.
Dr. Sutherland responded it would be a full day. There have been discussions about moving furniture in order to re-position classrooms so there is more distance between students, she said.
The next question was if a student chooses traditional learning, could they switch to virtual after the school  year begins.
Dr. Sutherland said they have requested that a student stay either traditional or virtual for a nine week period. 
“Now, there will be exceptions to that,” Dr. Sutherland noted. “We have to be reasonable.” 
For instance, if a child starts the  year in the traditional method and COVID-19 cases spike, they are welcomed to call or meet with Dr. Sutherland and discuss the issue.
Fetter then chose from submitted questions if students would have to stay in the classroom all day or would be allowed to have PE outside the classroom.
The Roadmap to Reopening contains options for high, moderate or low risk situations. If the school is in high risk, in accordance with the state’s map, the plan would be allowing teachers at the elementary to switch classrooms with students remaining in the same classroom.
Grades six through 12 would be on a more traditional schedule but with precautions, Dr. Sutherland added.
“Our goal is to run everything in a sanitary way where we can spread kids out, do activities where they are not playing tag or not doing things where they are touching.” She added that games would be played with the social distance factor in mind.
Unless the system is placed on a high risk level, students would change classrooms, school officials said.
“Will a negative COVID test be required before a student or a teacher can return to school,” Fetter noted from the submitted questions.
“You either quarantine for 14 days or have a negative test,” Dr. Sutherland responded. 
Fetter then asked, “Will students have access to breakfast or lunch?”
“Yes,” responded Dr. Sutherland. “That will also be gradual.” She noted that most students the first two weeks of school will most likely have sack lunches. Then, as the Roadmap moves from high down to moderate and lesser risk, students will be placed at social distance and by grade level in the cafeteria.
For instance, one grade would eat spread out in the cafeteria, seated facing the same direction with a sack lunch at the table, with another grade having lunch in their classroom, so that cleaning can occur. Dr. Sutherland illustrated.
 Students will be allowed to bring snacks to school but those would need to be pre-packaged and students will not be allowed to share food, Dr. Sutherland continued.
New students are welcomed to come at any time to the central office to be enrolled, officials also discussed.
“Are school officials seeking input from  local health officials, such as hospital CEO, etc. in their decision making regarding COVID-19,” Fetter asked from submitted questions.
Dr. Sutherland responded the Roadmap to Reopening is a close mirror to state guidelines,  which is based on CDC data. “I have spoken with our hospital CEO as far what they are doing with their temperature checking and those kind of things. We have spoken with local doctors,” Dr. Sutherland continued.
HCS plans are based on the most current data and information given in the district and state, she added.
Also, a task force is being formed with input from the community, medical professionals and teachers, Dr. Sutherland said.
Students being dropped off at school is being strongly encouraged but may not be feasible for every parent, Dr. Sutherland explained.
Buses, she continued, will be sanitized and school officials are looking into sanitation stations at the bus entrances. 
“Will students get lockers this year,” Fetter asked from the list of questions. 
Wilcoxson said the middle school is offering lockers free of charge for students. That was echoed by Reed at the high school.
A question was asked if masks would be provided for students riding buses.
Dr. Sutherland said the school will have some disposable masks if a student has none available, but it is not going to be a common practice,  that each time a student boards a bus, they will be provided a new mask.
Dr. Sutherland urged students to provide masks on their own.
“Why are we starting school so early,” Fetter read from another submitted question.
“We are starting at the same time that we have originally on our calendar...We’ve been out of school for a long time. Our kids have already missed a lot of school...We believe we are ready. We don’t believe another week is going to provide us any more guidance or any more time to prepare,” Dr. Sutherland responded.
She added that students need to be back in school and to that type of normalcy.
“And above anything, we have a lot of students who need to be fed and they need to be taken care of,” Dr. Sutherland added. 
“We need to take of them, and we believe the longer we wait, some of our kids in this community don’t get three solid meals a day and that’s our priority, not only academically but taking care of our students. We believe we can do that better when they are with us and we can check on them and make sure they are OK and provide  those meals that they need during the day,” she continued.
Answers to other questions were that electives are needed for credits and would also be offered in virtual learning, with students choosing from the electives offered in their online format. However, students doing virtual learning will not be allowed to come onto campus for traditional electives.
Precautions practiced by coaches and directors during practices include temperature checks, masks being worn and social distance practiced. Guidelines from the Alabama High School Athletic Association are being followed as a district.
Temperature checks, in fact, will not be daily at this point throughout the district, but teachers will have quick access to digital thermometers used at the first sign of symptoms or if a child is not feeling well.
If the school system is in a very high risk category when school starts, no field trips will be allowed. Plans for some sort of alternative senior trip are being considered.


See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.
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