MOULTRIE, Ga. — On Wednesday, the Colquitt County School System released its plan to reopen schools.

Barring changes forced by the coronavirus, the system is planning for teacher pre-planning to begin Aug. 3 and for students to begin classes on Aug. 10.

The plan calls for online learning options, but it doesn’t mention staggered start times, which some systems have looked at as a way to keep students from congregating in large groups.

“We will evaluate the Reopening Plan daily as changing health and safety concerns arise,” School Superintendent Doug Howell wrote in the plan. “Guidelines may change or new guidelines added between now and the start of school. 

“We are prepared to teach totally online if the overall health and safety factors call for a system shutdown,” the plan says. “We will address the issues of devices and internet access on a case by case basis. Students with no internet access will be taught using workbooks and other hard copy materials. 

“The Colquitt County School System believes that a student needs to be in school if health and safety protocols will allow,” Howell wrote. “There is no substitute for in-school face-to-face instruction with a competent, caring, and compassionate teacher. So as of now, the plan is to reopen according to the approved 2020-2021 calendar with a parent option of online instruction on day one.”

The plan continues with a long list of health and safety guidelines that emphasize cleaning and sanitizing facilities, social distancing for students and staff, daily temperature checks and limited access to the campus, even for parents.

“Buses will be a challenge to apply social distancing,” the plan acknowledges. “Students will be spread out when possible. Bus routes will be analyzed with social distancing in mind.”

Masks are encouraged but will not be required.

The plan incorporates the Georgia Department of Public Health’s Return to School Guidelines, which establish when a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patient can return to school.

People with COVID-19 symptoms who have been confirmed to have the disease can return after both of the following are met:

• At least three days have passed since recovery, defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medication and improvement in respiratory symptoms.

• At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

Symptomatic people who are suspected of having COVID-19 can follow the same rules, or can return if they are tested for the illness and receive a negative result.

Asymptomatic people with confirmed COVID-19 can return after 10 days have passed since the positive laboratory test was done.

Asymptomatic people who’ve had close contact with a person with COVID-19 will need to quarantine for 14 days and watch for symptoms.

The school system’s plan also includes procedures to send students or staff home if they are suspected of having COVID-19.

Roughly half of the plan involves online options for classes, either as parental options from the beginning of the year or as a mid-year response if schools have to close again.

From the beginning of the year, parents of students in kindergarten through 12th grade can choose to have their students taught online by a Colquitt County teacher in what’s called the Remote Classroom Option. These classes coincide fairly well with what is being taught in the physical classroom, according to information from the school system.

Parents of students in grades 6-12 can opt instead for the Georgia Virtual School, which is accessed through the school system’s VirtuPack program. The virtual school is taught by statewide teachers and may not necessarily line up with the subjects being taught at any given time in Colquitt County’s in-person classes, so the system discourages students from joining or leaving the program except at the end of a semester.

The school system is surveying parents through July 17 to judge how many would prefer the Remote Classroom and how many would prefer VirtuPack so administrators can fine-tune their plans for the beginning of school. Access the survey here.

No online option is being offered for pre-kindergarten.

“For many families, early childhood education and child care services are essential,” Nick Chastain, director of early learning for the system, wrote in the plan. “Our goal remains the same: to ensure every eligible child has access to a high quality pre-K experience. We strive to help all children gain the academic, social, and emotional skills they will need to succeed in school and life. These goals are simply unrealistic in an online setting.”

Even assuming in-person classes begin as planned, the system will have every teacher and class using online learning tools in the classroom weekly, the plan says. That way, if the schools have to close again due to the coronavirus (or any other reason), the students will be able to continue to use familiar applications during online classes.

The plan affirms that special education students would receive their required services in an online manner if schools close, although some services, such as an initial evaluation, might have to wait until schools reopen.

The plan says each school will contact families at the beginning of school to determine whether the student has access to the internet and has a device to do so with. Issues will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, which could include providing hard copies of the curriculum materials to be worked on at home and dropped off at school.

The plan also includes a section on School Nutrition. Among its plans are options for classes to eat lunch in their classrooms instead of the cafeteria. 

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