Return to normal?


Beverly Anderson’s kindergarten classroom at Oneonta Elementary School is ready for students. -Beverly Anderson

Beverly Anderson’s kindergarten classroom at Oneonta Elementary School is ready for students. -Beverly Anderson

The first day of school, like most things in this COVID-19 world, will be a little different for the thousands of students in both the Blount County and Oneonta City schools. Blount County students kick off the 2020-2021 school year tomorrow, while Oneonta students have a few extra days to prepare. Blount County Schools

Around 5,750 (75 percent) Blount County students will hit the hallways of their respective schools for the first time since March. Approximately 1,900 (25 percent) students will start day one from home.

Blount County students had the option of choosing between two learning models — traditional or remote. Those choosing the traditional model will go to school in person Tuesday through Friday with Monday set aside as a day of remote learning system-wide. Those choosing the remote model will head to class virtually Monday through Friday.

For those returning to in-person classes, a number of health and wellness protocols have been adopted “to serve our students while keeping health and safety as our number one priority,” said Rodney Green, superintendent of Blount County Schools. “We are very excited about the new opportunities that the new school year brings and look forward to serving our students from home or in school.

“Students and teachers are excited to get back in school and to have the sense of things getting back to normal. Students need to be learning and interacting with their friends and teachers. Our students need their teachers and our teachers need our students.”

A complete breakdown of Blount County Schools’ “Roadmap to Reopening” can be found on its website at www.blountboe.net. The plan covers everything from transportation and lunchrooms to classrooms and extracurriculars.

“Our schools are clean, safe, nurturing environments supported by a high quality staff,” Green said. “Our teachers and support staff are committed to providing quality educational experiences remotely or in person.

“We feel great about our reopening plans to address the academic needs of our students while protecting their physical health and their social-emotional well-being. We may experience some setbacks or some temporary closures, but through the challenges, we can have a good school year.” Oneonta City Schools

In an emergency called board meeting last Thursday, the Oneonta City Board of Education voted to delay the start date for its students while adopting a “hybrid learning plan” for Oneonta Middle and Oneonta High schools that will “aid in density reduction by limiting the number of students in the building at the same time,” explained assistant superintendent Lauren Wilson. “Reduced class sizes and extra space between students makes everyone feel a little better.“

The hybrid plan, which replaces the traditional plan for middle and high school, means students who selected the traditional option will now be assigned to one of two groups. Each group will attend school in person two days each week with remote learning from home the other three days.

“We are eager to begin the teaching and learning process and remain hopeful for an uninterrupted school year,” said Daniel Smith, superintendent. “We are happy to offer the families in our community a choice for students to return to campus to learn in a hybrid/traditional method or in a remote environment.”

Currently, 25 percent of OCS students will be remote learners and 75 percent will return to campus for traditional learning through the hybrid plan. The hybrid schedule does not apply to students who registered for full-time remote learning or students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

All elementary students who selected the traditional option will still go to school Tuesday through Friday with remote learning on Monday. All elementary students – traditional and remote – start school Aug. 18.

For students with a last name starting with A through L in grades six through 12 opting for the hybrid plan, in-person learning starts Tuesday, Aug. 18. They will go to school in person Tuesday and Wednesday, and participate in remote learning on Monday, Thursday, and Friday.

Sixth- through 12th-graders with a last name starting with M through Z will go to school in person Thursday and Friday, and participate in remote learning Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. They begin in-person learning on Aug. 20.

“We hope that in nine weeks we will be able to transition to traditional learning,” Wilson said. “I promise there is nothing that any of us want more than to have all of our kids back, but we have to do it responsibly and safely.

“I have visited all of our faculty meetings and while our teachers are excited, they are anxious. But they are also ready. They are ready to teach. They are ready to have their kids back. I guarantee they are all going to do the absolute best they can.”

A complete breakdown of the OCS “Learning Plan” and “Reopening Plan” can be found on its website at www.oneontacityschools.com. The reopening plan, like the county’s plan, covers transportation, lunchrooms, hallways, classrooms, extracurriculars, and everything in between.

“Although we are faced with many challenges related to the current pandemic, we have developed a good plan for our students to be successful while learning,” Smith said. “We will strive daily to make conditions as safe as possible for our students and employees. Also, we will monitor the conditions associated with COVID-19 and continue to adjust our schedule and school calendar if needed as these conditions warrant us to do so.”

The decision to adjust both the calendar and learning plan comes on the heels of another shut down of varsity football as well as middle school football and band camp due to positive cases of COVID-19. Based on guidance from the Alabama Department of Public Health that was released early last week, a 14-day quarantine for all students potentially exposed to the virus is mandatory.

With the football team sidelined until Aug. 18, head coach Phil Phillips had no choice but to cancel the Redskins’ first two games of the season – at Cleveland (Aug. 21) and its home opener with Hayden (Aug. 28).