Students haven’t been in class in Madison County since March 13 – and the board of education voted Tuesday night to add one more week to that.
Madison County schools will now begin Friday, Aug. 14. School was set to begin Friday, Aug. 7.
The board voted for the delay in order to give teachers and staff a nine-day pre-planning period, instead of the usual four days. Teachers will still report to school on Monday, Aug. 3, to begin pre-planning.
“So it’s two-fold,” Superintendent Michael Williams explained about preparations for the new school year. “First is the safety issue (new protocols, cleaning procedures, social distancing, etc.) and also the learning piece (for digital learning). We want to ensure our teachers and staff are all in a place where they’re ready to go.”
Williams said he and the administration believe the extra five pre-planning days will allow for that.
There are 175 instructional days planned for the 2020-2021 school year, down five from the usual 180 days. There are two distance-learning periods built in to the calendar, the first one is Oct. 12 – 14 (three days prior to the two- day fall break) and another one Feb. 15 – 18 (four days prior to the winter break day on Feb. 19).
During these distance learning days, the schools will be deep-cleaned by ABM, the school’s cleaning company.
Williams and an ABM representative explained that the schools will be cleaned throughout the year, with “touch surfaces” cleaned throughout the day and electrostatic misting devices will be used overnight to kill germs on all surfaces with hospital-grade cleaning chemicals.
In addition, the school has purchased masks, touchless thermometers and hand sanitizer. Williams said GEMA and the state department are also sending a shipment of masks, thermometers and hand sanitizer, free of charge to the school system.
In a related matter, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jody Goodroe said just over 600 students and parents have expressed an interest in the online learning option for the first semester of school. About 250 elementary students and 350 middle and high students are included in that number. As of Tuesday night, only 40 middle and high school students had committed to the online learning program. Goodroe said they should have more firm numbers as to how many are actually going to participate in the program by next week.
Williams said the schools are tentatively planning for about 10-to-15 percent of the student body to choose online learning, which leaves the other 85-to-90 percent planning to return to school for face-to-face learning next month.
He said school officials continue to closely monitor the number of COVID-19 cases in the area and may have to make adjustments again, including, if necessary, going to distance learning at the start of school. He said the safety of students and staff are of paramount importance in all their decision-making.
In some good news, Williams said the school system will have a balanced budget this year, there will be no millage rate increase and no furlough days for teachers.
Also Tuesday night, the board heard a detailed overview of the school’s new Learning Management System (LMS) called MC2 (MC squared). The new learning system, which a team of teachers and administrators have been working on this summer, includes the implementation of the one-to-one initiative, with each student from kindergarten through 12th grade receiving a Chrome book the first week of school loaded with access to all the programs needed for their grade level. This new system will require professional learning instruction to teachers when they return Aug. 3.
Goodroe said the school system will be much better prepared for distance learning if it is required this year than they were in last spring.
The new program will also include instructional events for students and parents/guardians.
“We recognize our teachers are going to need time and they need to be supported and so will our kids,” Goodroe noted.
Williams and the board praised the work of the team to get the new distance learning program in place.
Williams also spoke Friday to the Rotary Club of Madison County about planning for the 2020-21 school year. He was asked about teachers who might be concerned about returning.
“We love our faculty,” he said. “We have some folks who are a little bit anxious, a little bit concerned. And we’ll work through that and work with them as well.”
The superintendent emphasized that physical and emotional well being of staff and students are the top priorities.
“We told our administrators, if your teacher needs to go outside and walk around 10 times a day so those kids can go outside and take their masks off and be apart from each other, do it,” said Williams. “First and foremost, our kids need to be back with us in that environment. Learning will come, but we need the emotional piece for students, the relationship piece for students, the safety piece. Let’s not worry about, ‘I got to get to this lesson. I got to make this happen.’ We’ll get there. But first and foremost, let’s take care of our kids and our staff. If they take an extra 10 or 15 minutes to do some things different, it’s OK.”