During a two-hour school board meeting Thursday night, members of the Huntsville City Schools administration walked through the numerous steps being taken to mitigate the spread of coronavirus as they prepare to welcome students back this month.
The first students, kindergarten through eighth grade, will return on Monday, September 14, and high school students will come back the following Monday, September 21.
Types of coronavirus symptoms:
- Major symptoms
- New cough
- New loss of taste or smell
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Minor symptoms
- Fever or chills
- Muscle or body aches
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Parents have until September 9 to decide whether they want their kids to continue on the virtual path or return to in-classroom learning, using the school system's staggered schedule.
Parents who initially chose the traditional option for their student(s) can attend remotely up until October 26, when they have to return to the classroom.
"I'm torn because I want to give my kids an adequate education, but I'm not a teacher. I can only get them so far," said parent Elizabeth Briggs.
Briggs has seven children who are still in the school system. She said she will likely send some of them back, like one of her daughters who is a senior, but may keep others learning remotely, since they have asthma.
She works in a salon and can set her own hours. She said that flexibility is a luxury that not all parents have.
"But for those who don't have that option, who have to get up and go to work every day, and they're having to leave their older children to watch their younger children that go to school, it's hard," Briggs said.
During Thursday's meeting, the board went over what the return will look like. Parents will be receiving information about which days their student(s) will be in attendance no later than September 4.
They also talked about what staff members should do if they start showing potential symptoms of coronavirus. The district's policy is they should not report to work/school:
If one or more symptoms of coronavirus
Has been exposed to someone with coronavirus within the last 14 days
Has received a positive diagnosis of coronavirus, within the last 10 days, even if they are without symptoms
Has been tested for coronavirus and is awaiting results
School officials said one of the ways they will help track contacts is using the “6/15 Rule,” which defines “close contact” as “an individual who has been within 6 feet of a person with at least one major symptom or a diagnosis of COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes. The 15 minutes is cumulative over a 24-hour period.”
They also stated that anyone who is exposed to someone with major symptoms “will be sent home and asked to self-quarantine for 14 days and must self-quarantine for 14 days. Persons remaining in a household with a positive person will have to self-quarantine for a longer period.”
District officials also talked about other changes, like loading buses from the back to the front and walking through how students will be able to access meals during the day.
Luke Allen, a parent who spoke before the board on Thursday, thanked them for their work, but argued that the school system should find a way to allow students to return to the classroom five days a week.
“It's been demonstrated throughout the state and the nation and we've yet to do it here with our public schools and it's time that Huntsville City Schools tries to do it,” Allen said.
However, the administration defended its current plan, which includes ordering 8,300 plastic dividers for students below the high school level and, is the best course of action, given the circumstances.
“Even after 27 years in the Army and two wars, I have never seen an environment of as rigorous and constant risk assessment as I have seen here in Huntsville City Schools since March 13 when this all happened,” said Jeff Wilson, the director of operations for Huntsville City Schools.
Superintendent Christie Finley said the district is in close contact with Huntsville Hospital regarding any rise in cases, especially around the Labor Day holiday.
She said tracking the numbers will help to inform when it will be safe to offer a full, five-day in-class option for students.
For more information on the return to school plan, click here.