There may be more students in traditional classrooms this go-round, but not much else has changed in Limestone County Schools' plan for the second half of the 2020-2021 school year.

Visitation to schools and field trips away from campus are still strictly limited, and facial coverings and social distancing will still be required. Superintendent Randy Shearouse said they'll continue to evaluate throughout the year based on the latest data available for Limestone County, but so far, everything seems on track for a successful start to the spring semester.

"It's important, especially as we start the second semester, that we don't need to quarantine as many as we have in the past," Shearouse said, adding it's possible as long as everyone is following the rules for social distancing and close contact.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle still facing the county schools is staffing. There were two school shutdowns during the fall semester, with a systemwide shutdown announced days before the winter break was set to begin, and in each case, not having enough substitute employees played a major role.

"Can you man every classroom? Can you man the lunchrooms? But as of right now, it appears we're ready to go on Wednesday," Shearouse said.

LCS was able to bring some of its virtual teachers back to traditional teaching once it became clear a large number of virtual elementary students would also be returning to the classroom. Shearouse said this will help them maintain social distancing despite the increase in students.

LCS is expecting more CARES Act funding, too, which will help cover the costs of protecting and educating students as the pandemic continues.

"We don't know an amount at this point, but we know we will receive some additional funding that can help with cleaning supplies, technology, any costs we've incurred along the way," he said. "We're looking forward to seeing what resources they're going to make available to us so we can improve not just our virtual programs but face-to-face instruction and technology in schools."

Virtual learning proved somewhat of a challenge at the start of the 2020-2021 school year, but he said time has helped smooth out many of the bumps in the road. However, he remains hopeful that by the time the 2021-2022 school year rolls around, even fewer students will need the option.

"I don't think anything can take the place of traditional instruction with a qualified teacher," he said.

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