COVINGTON, Ga. — After more than three hours of discussing its Recovery and Reopening Plan and determining the best start date, the Newton County Schools Board of Education has elected to welcome students back to school Aug. 24.
Originally, Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey proposed students return to school Aug. 17, but after spending several hours discussing how the reopening plan would be implemented, board members Trey Bailey, Abigail Coggin and Shakila Henderson-Baker felt there wasn’t enough time.
“There are 24 working days to implement something we’ve talked about for two hours now,” Henderson-Baker said. “Is that realistic? … I think it’s too soon.”
After further discussion, the board voted down the proposed calendar with a start date of Aug. 17 and later voted to approve the calendar with a start date of Aug. 24 to allow administrators more time to put the reopening plan into action.
Since the start date was pushed back, the end date was also pushed back from May 28 to June 4.
Students and teachers will be out one day for Fall Break (Oct. 12), three days for Thanksgiving Break (Nov. 25-27), two weeks for Winter Break (Dec. 21-Jan. 1) and one week for Spring Break (April 5-9) among other federal holidays regularly observed. A complete calendar will be made available at newtoncountyschools.org.
Before finalizing the 2020-2021 school calendar, the board spent the first two hours discussing the school system’s Recovery and Reopening Plan.
The Recovery and Reopening Plan is a direct response to prevent further transmission of the novel coronavirus while providing instructional continuity and supporting student and family wellness.
The plan calls for a specific set of health and safety measures to be instituted based on the level of community spread. Some of the guidelines within the plan include increasing the distance between seating assignments, rearranging classrooms to have students facing the same direction and implementing staggered class changes.
Students, staff and visitors will be asked to self-screen at home for symptoms of COVID-19. If students and staff members experience symptoms of COVID-19 or another illness, they will be required to stay home. Anyone with a fever of 100.4 or greater must stay home. Anyone who develops a fever of 100.4 while on campus will be isolated and sent home.
Parents, guardians and staff members will receive information and training on COVID-19 risk factors and preventive measures.
If the level of community spread is low or nonexistent, students and staff members will be “allowed” to wear face coverings. If the level of spread is minimal or moderate, students and staff members will then be “expected” to wear face coverings, “especially when physical distancing cannot be maintained.”
Frequent hand-washing of students and staff will be required and administered through the use of “scheduled hand-washing breaks” integrated into their daily schedules. Students will be discouraged from sharing books, materials, supplies or equipment, including devices and equipment used for athletics and band. Hand sanitizing stations will be placed throughout each facility.
Schools will be cleaned daily and frequently-touched surfaces will be sanitized multiple times throughout the day. Cleaning and disinfecting protocols will be used in computer labs, media centers and athletic facilities.
The plan states that the health department will determine whether a closure is warranted, the length of the closure, the number of schools impacted based on the specific incident and risk level within the community. Based on the level of community spread of the virus, the health department and other state or federal health officials may prescribe additional mass closures. If a closure is ordered, students will transition to the virtual learning model platform to ensure instructional continuity.
As The Covington News previously reported, Newton County Schools will begin the year offering different options for instruction including in-person and online platforms.
The traditional, in-person instruction model is subject to change depending on the level of community spread of COVID-19. If the level of community spread were to become minimal or moderate, students may attend school in person under strict safety measures or attend school in-person on alternating days and participate remotely on other days. If it becomes substantial, students will be required to attend school remotely.
For online instruction, there are two options: the “school-based” virtual model or “self-paced Virtual Academy” model.
The school-based virtual model will require students to attend school remotely in their normal classes offered in the traditional model. The self-paced Virtual Academy model requires students to complete their work on their own time and engage with teachers when support is needed or requested.
The school system will provide parents and students a two-week window in July to select the school experience for their student for the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year. According to the plan, the decision is binding for the entire first semester of the school year and students cannot alter their learning experience until the end of the semester. Anyone with questions or concerns about instructional options may email firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about the instruction options is expected to be provided by the school system in the coming days.
For students participating in the traditional in-person instructional model, meal service will vary with the level of community spread as determined by the school system in consultation with the local public health department.
Students who participate in the virtual learning models will be able to pick up meals from any school or bus stop delivery location.
Transportation for students will continue to be provided, however, to prevent the spread of illness, particularly COVID-19. The number of students allowed on a bus at one time will be limited when the level of community spread is determined to be mild or moderate.
Three surveys were administered to gather input from students and their families for the plan.
The first survey garnered 6,664 responses concerning reopening schools. The majority of participants felt enhanced learning, regular hand-washing, limiting classroom seating, and staggering recess and lunch were all “very important factors” when considering reopening.
When it came to what school should look like, survey participants’ responses were mixed. The most favorable response was associated with a full-time regular start to the school year; however, a significant number strongly opposed that approach.
After reviewing the data, the school system elected to give parents and students the option to choose how students are instructed.
The survey indicated 76% of parents and guardians that responded have access to childcare for students who may participate in some form of online learning.
Teachers were also polled during a listening session on July 2. According to survey results, 63.2% of teachers felt comfortable with returning to normal school setting; 67.6% had no restrictions that might impact ability to return to work; 56.7% would like the opportunity to continue remote teaching; 91.7% had reliable access to the internet.
A survey of district staff excluding teachers showed 60.5% of employees were comfortable with returning to normal school/work setting and 67.6% of employees had no restrictions that might impact ability to return to work.
The plan can be seen in its entirety below.
In other business, the board:
• Approved the purchase of Edginuity, an online and blended learning curriculum, in the amount of $358,890 to be paid with budgeted fiscal year 2021 general funds.
• Approved the actions relative to superintendent’s recommendations in an executive session at the beginning of the meeting. The executive session was held to discuss “appointment, employment and compensation of employees.”