MOULTRIE, Ga. -- The Colquitt County School System is looking to open up on Aug. 17 with three learning options on the board. Some kids will be at home and some kids will be at school, but they’ll all be studying the same standards, county School Superintendent Doug Howell said.
The school system has been planning this since early in the summer, sending out an open-questions survey starting in early June and sending out a return-to-school survey that was active from July 7-17.
Howell said they wanted to know what options parents were leaning toward. All schools in the county even had a small team put together to weigh in issues they may face.
But a lot of effort went into the options given in the return-to-school survey including almost daily conversations with Colquitt Regional Medical Center CEO Jim Matney and making sure school nurses are equipped for the future.
“Suzanne Sumner, who was our nurse coordinator and supervisor for all of our nurses -- because we have a nurse at every school -- she has been in close contact with the Colquitt County Health Department,” Howell said.
With the many guidelines they have to follow -- whether it be CDC or Department of Public Health -- the system’s close contact with the DPH is a positive thing.
Talking with DPH Southwest District Health Director Dr. Charles Ruis revealed there are no set mandates across the board, rather they’re letting school districts take their own necessary precautions.
“Of course they wouldn’t want to open school until they’re ready,” Ruis said. “They need to have their policies in place, their school clean, their staff educated, and the supplies they need to make it a safe place for students.”
The most important piece of that is staying informed to know how to deal with the school if a positive COVID-19 case shows up.
Taking that into account, CCSS gave three options: the obvious, a traditional setting, the remote classroom and the VirtuPack program. Both are web-based options but in different forms.
Remote classroom is a virtual classroom taught by Colquitt County teachers with a curriculum lined with physical classrooms on the same level. Classes will be taught at specific times Monday-Friday -- like a full school day.
Students in this setting will be able to meet with, call or chat online with teachers as needed. And to provide a swift transition back, instruction takes place on the same schedule as the physical classroom.
VirtuPack is for sixth through twelfth graders who want to study via virtual programming for a full semester. This will be accessed through Georgia Virtual School (GAVS), so it won’t be taught by local teachers, rather those employed by GAVS.
The student will maintain enrollment at their district school to participate in extracurriculars, but the VirtuPack course doesn’t adhere to a set daily schedule. Assignments should be daily though.
“Parents have had a chance to sign up for that, so anyone that did not feel comfortable coming back face-to-face could sign up for the virtual option,” Howell said. “With pre-planning going on [right now] we’re getting all of that set up for when we go back to school.”
Parents can change their mind in their decision, but there’s a certain level of commitment the students will need to take before switching options.
Should those in grades K-5 decide upon the remote learning option, nine weeks -- the first quarter of school -- of commitment are necessary before attempting to switch.
“We have to do that otherwise there’s a lot of planning involved and we have to have some type of continuity there as far as who we’re serving,”
Grades 6-12 have a bigger commitment and must stay for a full semester. Howell said that’s because of the way those grades are set up (such as how grades 9-12 work for credit).
At the end of the nine weeks and the semester commitment respectively, students can return to the traditional instruction setting.
It’ll roughly be an 80-20 split on those choosing traditional instruction over remote instruction, Howell said. This is spread out among CCSS’ 13 schools.
Whereas the remote classroom setting’s safety measures are up to those within the household, the school system must make sure the physical classroom is safe for those within.
Howell said they want kids to wear masks while they’re in school but they aren’t mandating it since the governor hasn’t mandated it.
“We’re asking parents to send them on a bus with a mask [and] send them back with masks,” he said. “We realize some parents might not want their kids to wear masks or the kids might have a hard time wearing it -- the smaller kids -- but we’re asking them to wear [them].”
CCSS is also abiding by CRMC’s three Ws: wash your hands, wear a mask and watch your distance.
Howell said they’ll be working with the kids to make sure they’re staying safe and abiding the rules too. Hand sanitizers will be throughout the school in rooms, hallways, lobbies and bathrooms.
Looking at an estimated 80 percent of the school system coming back for traditional instruction, Howell has no worry about anyone getting COVID-19. He said officials are sure some cases may pop up, but they’re focused on prevention and how they’ll react when it comes.
“When it comes to responding to people who might get sick, we plan on checking symptoms and checking temperatures in first period everyday,” he said. “Will we make mistakes? Of course we will. Everybody makes mistakes and we’re learning like everybody else.”
But they’re going to do their best and keep parents informed.