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The Barrow County School System currently plans to begin its school year with in-person instruction Aug. 4 but will also offer a distance-learning option for all students due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

District officials released on Monday, July 6, an 18-page “action plan” for reopening, three weeks after they presented three possible operation scenarios based on the level of community spread of COVID-19. Officials also stressed the plan could “change at any time” depending on conditions.

The full plan is available on the district’s website at barrow.k12.ga.us.

While the COVID-19 spread-level framework had not been released by the Georgia Department of Public Health as of Monday, officials said for now it should be assumed that Barrow County is on Level 2/moderate community spread and will hold school in-person on Aug. 4 as originally planned, with enhanced mitigation efforts in effect.

An increase to Level 3/substantial spread would result in the closure of school facilities and students returning to 100-percent distance learning for a minimum of 14 days. In that case, the district would not reopen facilities to in-person instruction until the spread level decreases and it is given clearance by local health officials.

While the Level 2 scenario presented by district officials could include a staggered or hybrid on-campus/off-campus schedule, the system “does not anticipate” utilizing such a model at this time, officials said. “However, conditions can change, and the system may have to revisit the hybrid models as conditions warrant.”

STEPS IN PLACE

Officials said each of the district’s 19 schools will have a “slightly different” approach to implementing the action plan, though the basic framework will be the same.

Masks or cloth face coverings won’t be required but will be “strongly recommended” for students inside buildings. All staff will be required to wear masks in common areas during Level 2 status and mask-wearing will be “strongly recommended” at Level 1/minimum or no spread.

Students riding buses, as well as bus drivers, will be required to wear masks or face coverings.

Schools will manage the crowd flow to reduce clustering and crowding, directional signage will be applied, and students and staff will be reminded to maintain at least six feet of distance between each other when possible.

Water fountains will be turned off, and staff and students are encouraged to bring their own water bottle. Cafeterias will limit meal options and not allow any self-serving of items, and students will be spaced out as much as possible, according to the plan. At Level 2, schools are asked to consider requiring students eat their meals in their classrooms.

School assemblies will be “heavily modified” and potentially canceled if deemed non-essential. Assemblies “should not be held” during Level 2 status “except in exceptional circumstances,” according to the plan.

All parent meetings will be held virtually when possible and by appointment only if an in-person visit is required. Parents and all other outside visitors will have to make appointments, wear a mask, complete a symptom checklist and submit to a temperature screening. Parents coming to check their children out early do not need an appointment but will need to wait outside the building for their child.

MONITORING SYMPTOMS

Students and staff will be encouraged to continuously monitor their symptoms and not attend school if they’re not feeling well.

No student or staff member who has a temperature of 100.4 or higher, is positive for COVID-19, or has been exposed to someone confirmed to have COVID-19 within the previous 14 days will be allowed at school.

All students out sick with a fever will be required to be fever-free for 72 hours without the use of medication in order to return, a change from the previous 24-hour rule.

Anyone who tests positive for or is suspected of having COVID-19 and is symptomatic (fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, or diarrhea) must wait 10 days after a positive test, exposure to a person with a positive test, or the first appearance of symptoms, be fever-free for 72 hours, and/or show an improvement in symptoms in order to return to school.

Asymptomatic individuals who test positive for COVID-19 have to wait 10 days from the positive test and remain asymptomatic in order to return. Those with known exposure to someone with COVID-19 but aren’t showing any symptoms should monitor themselves for 14 days.

DISTANCE LEARNING

Students who wish to participate in distance learning will need to sign up by July 17 and will be asked to certify that they have access to the internet and an appropriate device.

The action plan outlines procedures for each grade level for distance learning. The link to sign up for distance learning is https://bit.ly/DLPenroll.

Students who participate in distance learning are still considered full-time enrollees and can participate in athletics and other extra-curricular activities, though certain activities may not be available to them.

Principals will have the final decision on students’ participation in activities, and any student who has to miss school due to health concern won’t be allowed to participate in the activities until they are cleared to return to school.

Each school will determine which extra-curricular activities it will offer to students, while high schools’ participation in sports will be determined in large part by whatever steps/plans the Georgia High School Association implements.

Students will be allowed to transition between in-person and distance learning between semesters.

OTHER NOTES

•The district’s action plan was influenced by the “Georgia’s Path to Recovery for K-12 Schools” guidance that the Georgia departments of Education and Public Health released June 1. Gov. Brian Kemp and state school superintendent Richard Woods are also expected soon to release findings from several K-12 restart working groups they established to assist in planning and developing guidelines for reopening schools.

•There are currently no plans to alter the 2020-21 school calendar, including planned breaks, but officials stressed the calendar may need to eventually be modified, depending on conditions.

•Open-house sessions at each of the schools will be held entirely virtually if the system remains at Level 2 or moves to Level 3/substantial community spread. Virtual open-house videos will be available for each school on the school's website on the day of the scheduled open house. If the open-house sessions are able to occur in person, Apalachee and Winder-Barrow high schools would have theirs July 28, and students would be staggered by grade level. The four middle schools, as well as Barrow Arts and Sciences Academy (grades 8-10) would hold their sessions July 30 and would also be staggered by grade level, while the elementary school open houses would be held July 31 and students at those would be staggered by last name. Time slots are available in the action plan.

•Winder-Barrow and Apalachee will announce a final decision July 20 on whether to move forward with in-person graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020. The schools previously released video ceremonies on their originally-scheduled graduation days in May and awarded diplomas to graduates at their residences. Winder-Barrow’s in-person ceremony is currently scheduled for July 29, while Apalachee’s is scheduled for July 30.

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