By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
Gadsden City School System’s students are heading back to the physical classroom on September 28, returning to face-to-face instruction after starting the school year remotely.
When students arrive at their respective schools in late September, they will do so through an alphabetically staggered process. Each student will only attend school in person one day the first week of reopening. Gadsden City School System Superintendent Tony Reddick expressed that the purpose behind this reopening method is to utilize small groups to acclimate students to their new learning environment. Through smaller groups, teachers can make students aware of all safety precautions they must adhere to and all regulations in place.
Students with parent’s last name starting with A–E will attend Monday, September 28, students with parent’s last name starting with F–K will attend Tuesday, September 29, students with parent’s last name starting with L–Q will attend Wednesday, September 30 and students with parent’s last name starting with R–Z will attend Thursday, October 1.
Reddick noted that the schools’ primary concerns are related to sanitation, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and air quality. The schools have installed iwave air purifiers in every air conditioning unit to reduce pathogens, allergens and other particles in the air to create a healthy environment with no harmful byproducts. The schools also purchased economy sized portable hand sanitizers, personalized hand sanitizing supplies, sprays, wipes and liquids, gloves, face masks, face shields and desk and table partitions.
“We have taken many steps to prepare for student return,” said Gadsden City High School Principal Kevin Young. “We view the safety of our students and faculty to be of the utmost importance. Above all, we have some non-negotiable expectations of everyone in the building.”
The first and most important of those non-negotiable expectations is the implementation of face masks and shields. Face masks will be required each day at school and students will be instructed on how to properly wear masks during class meetings throughout the first week back. Young updated faculty and staff on COVID-19 major and minor symptoms, and the GCHS school nurse will have a room in the building (near her office) designated as a COVID-19 holding room for students exhibiting symptoms. GCHS delivered information to parents instructing them to keep students at home who are symptomatic.
All hallways and stairwells at GCHS are divided into traffic lines with tape and arrows serving as visual markers to separate students during class changes. Educators all have disinfectant bottles to spray in their classrooms between classes and at the beginning and ending of each day. In addition to the air purifiers installed in air conditioning units as Reddick mentioned, Young noted that the school will educate its students on the best response and practices concerning COVID-19.
The new regulations surrounding COVID-19 will affect school procedures. Though the manner in which students enter and exit the school building will not change, once inside all students must wear a mask and practice social distancing (six feet for middle schoolers and high schoolers; three feet for some elementary grades) guidelines as they maneuver throughout the building. Each student will occupy an assigned seat every day, and each teacher will have a thermometer for checking temperatures. Any students exhibiting symptoms of illness will be isolated and addressed by the school nurse. In the unfortunate event of a reported positive COVID-19 case, schools will implement contact tracing.
At GCHS, students are prohibited from entering the building before 7:20 a.m. each morning. Exceptions are students who are eating breakfast, who will be permitted to enter the building at that time. All other students are allowed in the building beginning at 7:35 a.m. and will be expected to report directly to first block. GCHS will have an open campus in the mornings to prevent all students from crowding in the commons area by the lunchroom.
GCHS students will dismiss its students at the end of each day in a staggered release process to prevent congestion in the hallways. The high school will not sell lockers this year, and water fountains are not available for use.
GCHS encourages students to bring their own water bottles from home each day, preferably in clear containers.
At GCHS, class sizes are limited as much as possible. While the high school currently teaches classes with larger sizes than preferred, Young described a variety of options for those situations. When the weather permits, students in large classes might attend class outdoors or in the library which offers greater space to social distance. Teachers are encouraged to space out desks to a feasible extent in each classroom.
Reddick and Young commented on the community response to the re-introduction of face-to-face learning.
“There appears to be a lot of enthusiasm from students, more from parents and less from teachers,” said Reddick. “Students are likely excited about reuniting with their peers for social reasons, despite the social distancing requirement. Many of them are more interested in getting back to the routine of learning at the highest possible level, and some are just happy for the opportunity to change the environment to which they have been limited for the past five months.
“The teachers, although many are anxious to get back to a normal teaching routine, are primarily concerned about their health conditions, or are caring for an elderly or sick family member and are therefore concerned about the possibility of getting infected and jeopardizing the health of another. Additionally, there has been concern expressed about having to teach face-to-face and remotely at the same time.”
“The response has been excited, but with caution,” said Young. “Our faculty and staff have heard from many students who are ready to be back in school to see their teachers and friends, and get back to some normalcy. Others are understandably cautious about returning to school. Our teachers are ready to see students in their classes and will do their best to keep students safe while teaching. While we have done a tremendous job with remote learning and will continue to do so for the students who remain at home, we feel that face-to-face human interaction has been hard to duplicate through remote learning.”
Students who do not feel comfortable returning to face-to-face instruction will have the option to continue learning remotely for the remainder of the school year. The students who elected the remote learning option completed and submitted an application due Friday, September 25.
Though both recognize the challenges that arise with this new teaching and learning environment, Reddick and Young expressed their expectations for face-to-face learning in the midst of COVID-19.
“My greatest hope is that students and teachers alike will accept the fact that we did not create the situation we’re in,” said Reddick. “We are very limited in doing anything about it, besides following those orders that have been given to us to protect ourselves outside of the schools to slow down the spread of the virus. I also hope that we can embrace the challenges to this re-introduction, and be flexible about not only the delivery, but the outcome, especially as it relates to student grades.
“I further hope each one can develop the trust in one another to allow each of us to perform at the highest level possible to accomplish the goals of our respective assignments. My expectation is that there will be obstacles to overcome, some related to the delivery of instruction and some related to the servicing of the social, emotional and physical needs of both students and teachers; all of which will require “know-how” from administrators and other staff, and to the appreciation of our parents and other stakeholders.”
“My hope is that our return to school meets the needs and expectations of all our stakeholders,” said Young. We have a tremendous responsibility with keeping our students safe during the pandemic and we take that very seriously. My expectations are for our students to come to school ready to learn and to follow the guidelines we have set as a school and district to keep everyone safe. We feel that we have a good plan in place. We know that adjustments will be needed from time to time, but flexibility and patience are needed at this time.”