June 16, 2020
By: Dwayne Page
Barring a surge in the COVID-19 numbers locally, DeKalb County students are expected to return to the classrooms on August 3.
Director of Schools Patrick Cripps has announced that Monday, August 3 is the date for the reopening of schools in DeKalb County and it will be done in the traditional manner (all students, all teachers, all day) although protocols will be observed to help protect the health and safety of students and school staff.
The decision was made after an online parent survey conducted by the school district last week. Faced with three options for reopening, Cripps said the traditional manner was the most preferred over remote learning or a blended method of traditional and remote learning.
“We sent the survey out and it confirmed what we had already been hearing by word of mouth. Parents want us to get back in school. That was predominant on the survey. Get back to normal. There is nothing like a child sitting in front of a teacher to learn. That computer cannot take the place of the student-teacher relationship,” said Director Cripps during a Board of Education work session last Thursday night.
“At this time, we believe the large majority of DeKalb families want their children in a classroom with a teacher when school opens August 3. Together, we will work toward that goal. Our partnership with parents and this community is built on trust and we fully intend to support that relationship throughout the process by sharing information in the most transparent and honest way possible.”
Operating schools the old fashion way, however will pose challenges.
“There are precautions we will have to put in place for us to get back in school. We have at least three challenges with students on buses, lunch rooms, and hallway traffic. We are devising a plan for what that is going to look like,” said Cripps.
Parents fearful of having their child ride a school bus are free to bring them to school.
“The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended seating one child per seat on a bus, every other row but there is no way we could ever do that. We are short of bus drivers anyway. If we did that for a 90 passenger bus we would have to run four routes to get them (students) there in the morning. That would break us. Its not happening. I will encourage parents to bring their kids to school if they don’t feel comfortable with them riding the bus. We will provide our bus drivers with hand sanitizer and masks. The state has said they are going to send us 3,000 masks. We are looking at purchasing additional masks for kids if they want to wear them. We can’t make kids wear them. It is just suggested. We are also purchasing pretty nice masks for our staff. We have been in contact with a company to hopefully buy hand sanitizer by 300 gallon barrels. We will use some of our federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES ACT) money to buy personal protective equipment (PPEs) and cleaning materials for every day classroom usage,” said Cripps.
Before entering the schools, students must submit to temperature checks.
“One of the challenges we will be facing is at bus drop offs when all the kids are coming in at the same time which may cause delays in the start of classes each day. The state is telling us that we will have to check every kid’s temperature before they enter the building. What we will probably do especially during parental pickup and drop off is take the children’s temperature before they get out of the car. For the buses, we will have somebody outside zapping their foreheads (taking temperatures). The Governor has said we will be getting over 70 thermometers (one for every 40 students),” said Director Cripps.
As far as the school day, Cripps said plans are to put in place operational procedures (regarding social distancing and other concerns) which haven’t been finalized yet. “We don’t plan to do anything radical but when they get in the classrooms our idea is for the students to all face in one direction and not be talking in small groups. We may also stretch out the lunch periods and not have as many students eating at the same time. Students will be instructed to wash their hands before and after lunch. We plan to open up windows more often at the school buildings to let them air out and school buses will have to be cleaned after every morning and afternoon route,” Cripps continued.
In the event DeKalb County Schools should again return to remote student learning from home, the district will be ready for it.
“Every student in the school system will get a 1:1 device (computer) to take home. We will expect our teachers to not only communicate with our parents digitally but be prepared to assign lessons through the Ingenuity platform we hope to purchase with the CARES Act money,” said Cripps.
Unlike this past school year, the school district will use the same digital platform for all grade levels.
“Survey respondents (parents) said they wanted one platform they can use to communicate with teachers. This past year DCHS used Google Classroom while the elementary schools used Seesaw or Dojo. Parents with students in more than one school found themselves trying to keep up with too many platforms. This year we will do a solid platform and everybody will use the same one across the district to make it easier for parents,” said Cripps.
What will be the trigger to close schools again if the pandemic gets worse?
“The state has not told us anything. We will have to be lenient during these times if someone does get COVID 19 but right now we don’t know how many cases it will take for us to shut down school,” added Cripps.
Should the pandemic force it, the school district could revert to a blended traditional and remote learning option in which students would follow a staggered schedule for working at school and home in order to reduce the number of students in school buildings (due to social distancing concerns) on a given day. Teachers would follow a full day schedule helping students complete class work from both remote locations and in school.
“What a blended method would probably look like is students whose last names begin with the letters “A” through “M” would more than likely go to school on Mondays and Tuesdays while students whose last names begin with the letters “N” through “Z” would go to school on two other days, possibly Wednesdays and Thursdays and then we would have a day of planning for our teachers and a day of schools cleaning by our custodial staff. That doesn’t mean students would not be doing anything the three days they aren’t in school. They would still be required to work from home on their computers. We would only go to this blended method if the (COVID-19) numbers start ticking up,” said Cripps.
Should the pandemic get even worse, the school district would close again and renew remote learning in which teachers and students would work remotely from home using their 1:1 devices.
“When we get back in school our number one priority is for teachers to get to know their students and find out what kind of technology they have at home as far as Internet and practice the Ingenuity platform with the students so they know how to access it and operate it,” said Cripps.
Over the summer parents will be asked to participate in a class to better educate them on using the digital Ingenuity platform and to practice its operation with their children.
“We are going to offer a class for parents this summer and they will have to watch this (slideshow presentation) before computers are issued to their children to take home. The class will teach them how to access Ingenuity and how to communicate with their child’s teacher and to take advantage of other services we plan to offer,” said Cripps.