FLORENCE — Florence City Schools will start its school year Aug. 20 and offer the option of virtual classrooms due to COVID-19 concerns, officials said Thursday.
The school system released its 2020 Back To School Guidance Plan, which allows the option of returning to the classrooms or utilizing virtual classes.
The deadline for designating the virtual option is Aug. 7.
Superintendent Jimmy Shaw said officials established the plan under the guidance of the Alabama Department of Public Health. He urged parents, students, faculty and staff to follow procedures.
That starts with home screening, Shaw said. A student should not come to school if the student has a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher; has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the past 14 days; or has been diagnosed with the virus.
Any of those three issues should be reported to the school nurse or principal. A health care provider of the state health department must provide a clearance note before the student can return.
"We ask parents to be the first line of defense at home," Shaw said. "This plan can all be undone if screening is not done."
In the case of a staff member, any of the same three issues should be reported to the employee's direct supervisor.
If a student exhibits virus symptoms, he or she will be sent to the school nurse and isolated, according to the plan. A student with a high temperature, or who says he or she has been exposed to or has COVID-19, will be sent home.
The school system will assist in health screenings for adults and students, possibly to include the use of thermal imaging cameras to detect fevers from a distance.
Any student who starts the school year in the classroom is allowed to transfer to virtual school at any time, but students who start in virtual school have to wait until the end of the nearest nine-week reporting term to switch back to the classroom.
Students from second grade up must wear a face mask with the exception of those with a medical condition that would prevent it.
Kindergarten and first-grade students will wear masks during times of transition, such as being dropped off and picked up or leaving a classroom.
Social distancing will be observed, and desks and seating will be at least 3 to 6 feet apart when feasible and face in the same direction.
The schools will emphasize the importance of hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and increase monitoring to make sure that is being done.
Hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol can be used if soap and water are not readily available.
Students will be encouraged to cover their coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and to throw away the tissue and wash their hands immediately afterward.
The school system's custodial staff has developed an enhanced cleaning and disinfecting schedule. In addition, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, such as playground equipment and door handles that frequently are touched, will be done at least daily.
Shaw said absentee learning is available for students who are sick at home for an extended period through the school's Learning Management System. It includes Schoology for grades K-6 and Canvas for grades 7-12.
Bus routes will be maintained with face coverings required, barring a medical condition that prevents that.
Drivers will receive training on COVID symptoms, and if a student displays symptoms, the driver will move the student to a seat by themselves.
The buses will be cleaned between morning and afternoon routes with special attention placed on highly touched areas.
Students will be asked to seat from the back to the front, and they will unload from the front to back. They will be assigned seats based on that with social distance intervals marked on the aisle. Hand sanitizers will be available.
About 1,200 to 1,300 of the system's 4,700 students ride the bus.
Other issues addressed in the plan include:
• Visitors are not allowed for lunch, and access will be limited in general for visitors at the start of the school year. Any visitor is subject to a health screening by school personnel before coming in and they must wear a mask.
• Grades K-4 will limit class changes by having teachers move between rooms, except for special education, physical education and individualized instruction. Grades 5-6 will transition teachers between classrooms for core subjects. Grades 7-12 will continue with class changes as needed.
• Each school will release information regarding locker usage and procedures.
• There will be no campus events, such as assemblies, unless they can meet health guidelines, including social distancing.
• Breakfast and lunch will be served in classrooms for per-kindergarten students.
• Students in grades K-6 will go directly to their designated area after arriving at school in the morning. Teachers will pick up breakfast meals and deliver them to individual classrooms for students. Grades 7-12 will pick up breakfast from the cafeteria and move to a designated area or classroom to eat.
• For lunch, K-6 students will be served in the cafeteria and return to their classrooms to eat, while students in grades 7-12 will be served in the cafeteria and eat either in their classrooms or designated areas.
• Students in virtual school are provided with a device to assist them.