Parents who felt they did not have enough time or answers to make an informed decision about their student's education in the county schools system this fall will have another chance to decide at the end of this week.
The decision to reopen applications for virtual school was discussed during Tuesday's night meeting of the Limestone County Board of Education, with Superintendent Randy Shearouse saying parents will be able to make a decision or change a previous decision this weekend. From Friday until midnight Monday, parents who want to choose virtual application for their student can turn in an application, while parents who previously chose virtual will have an option to switch back to traditional learning.
“We had some parents issue concern about health conditions, and some parents issue concerns about not getting on the website to apply,” Shearouse told board members. “We've also had some students want to get back to the traditional model, as well.”
Shearouse said about 6,300 students are signed up to begin face-to-face instruction Aug. 7, while about 2,000 are set to begin learning virtually Aug. 12. Students who sign up virtually must do so for at least one full semester.
The school district will also have dedicated phone lines available Friday for those who have questions about either option, he said. Additional information will also be available in the following internet locations: @limestonecountyschools on Facebook, @lcsforkids on Twitter, on the district's website at www.lcsk12.org and @limestone.county.schools on Instagram.
1st 30 days
Shearouse also shared additional details in the district's reopening plan, including plans for bus riders, meals and staff or students who test positive or show symptoms during a school day. He said the focus right now is on the first 30 days of the year, but some aspects may be changed or extended depending on how the first month of the school year goes.
"We feel like, if we can focus on the first 30 days of school, have a successful reopening, that will be great start," Shearouse said. "After that, we can reevaluate."
Students who start their day by getting on the bus will find themselves with assigned seating. Like Athens City Schools, households will be seated together and those who board the bus first will be seated toward the back.
Breakfast and lunch will be served "grab and go" style, and students will be seated further apart than in previous years. Shearouse said some schools have a large enough lunchroom to accommodate this, but at least one school plans to use the school's gymnasium for meals.
Families are encouraged to use an online payment system, PayPams, to avoid handling cash to pay for meals. Prices will remain the same as last year, and a $1.95 fee associated with PayPams has been waived.
In the classroom, students will be assigned seats that are 6 feet apart whenever possible. Shearouse said having so many sign up for virtual learning has allowed for smaller classrooms, and each school is responsible for coming up with its own plan to reduce congregating in halls or other common areas.
Google Classroom assignments will be required for some students during the first month to help familiarize them with the platform, as it will be a primary tool used if a shutdown occurs.
What's not happening
Lockers will not be used until at least Sept. 4 to further reduce the risk of spread before or after classes.
Field trips are also nixed until at least Sept. 4. After that, only in-state trips will be allowed during the first semester, and only for mandatory extracurricular competitions like those for band or athletics.
Outside groups that were previously allowed to use campus facilities during non-school hours, such as church groups, will not be allowed to do so during at least the first month, according to Shearouse. Outside visitors, such as parents who wish to visit their child for lunch, are also not permitted.
Facial coverings will be required for students and employees until at least Sept. 4. Three reusable masks per student will be provided, though Shearouse encouraged parents to send their student with a mask from home. Face shields are available for teachers. Anyone with a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask will have to provide a medical excuse, such as a doctor's note.
Shearouse said there will be breaks scheduled so students are not wearing their masks throughout the full school day.
"We hope kids get outside a lot, where they can social distance and have some open air," he said. "Of course, that depends on the weather."
LCS has purchased electrostatic sprayers to help sanitize common areas in schools. Teachers will be provided additional equipment necessary for cleaning classrooms throughout the day, Shearouse said.
Restrooms will be cleaned multiple times a day, with soap and hand sanitizer made available throughout each school for staff and students.
Air filters will also be changed regularly to improve air quality on campuses, and buses will be cleaned and sanitized at least once daily.
Health tips will be posted on the district website, on social media, in classrooms and in hallways. School nurses will have age-appropriate activities for students to educate them on hand-washing, covering their nose and mouth if they sneeze or cough and other basic hygiene measures.
If someone tests positive
A concern among many families was what will happen if a student or teacher tests positive or presents with symptoms during the day. Shearouse addressed these concerns in the plan as well.
Sick and well rooms have been arranged at each school, "so kids coming to take medication, they won't have to intermingle with students who may be sick," Shearouse said. Random temperature checks are still planned throughout the district, with a focus on potential hot spots, but kids won't be sent home just because they present with "basic allergy symptoms," according to the plan.
Parents of a student who does test positive for COVID-19 should tell school administrators once they learn of the positive test result. Teachers and students who test positive are asked to isolate for at least 10 days and can return to school with a doctor's excuse after symptoms improve and they have gone at least 24 hours without a fever or the need for fever-reducing medication.
Students who are exposed outside of school should self-quarantine for 14 days after exposure and keep up with their classwork using Google Classroom and a district-provided device. If a teacher has been exposed outside of school, their students can continue to attend in-person class while the teacher is absent, according to the plan.
Anyone determined to have been in close contact in a school setting with a person who tests positive for COVID-19 will be notified. "Close contact" is defined in the plan as being within 6 feet of someone who has tested positive for more than 15 minutes in the two days before symptoms appeared or a specimen that generated a positive test result was collected, whichever is earlier.
In a classroom setting in which students and/or teachers were in close contact, individuals will be sent home and asked to quarantine for 14 days. If it is a bus rider who tests positive, students who sit in the seat in front of the bus rider, the seat behind the bus rider and the three seats across the aisle from the bus rider will be asked to quarantine.
If a shutdown occurs
Shearouse said similar to the flu, the proposed threshold is 20% absent. In other words, if 20% of a school's student body is out sick with COVID-19, the school could close for a two-week period while it is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.
Students will use Google Classroom, Google Meet and in some cases, phone calls from their teacher to continue their education remotely. Weekly assessments will be used to monitor progress.
If the entire system has to shut down, students will use SchoolsPLP or Edgenuity as well to continue learning remotely.
Shearouse said devices and meals will be provided by the district in the event of a shutdown, but how best to provide internet access to students who need it is still being determined.
Visit bit.ly/LCBOEagenda for the complete board meeting agenda, including personnel actions. A video recording of the meeting and a copy of the district's plan is available below.