Photo: Messenger file photo
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Gadsden City Schools Superintendent Tony Reddick recently provided an update via video on the district’s reopening plans and policies for the fall semester.
Although Reddick (pictured at right) confirmed an opening date of Aug. 11, he added that several nontraditional teaching policies would be implemented in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He said that he was well aware of concerns from parents about social distancing and safe interaction among students, administrators and teachers. Toward that end, parents and guardians will have the option of their children attending traditional classes on campus, learning remotely from home or a hybrid of the first two.
“This is not going to be a regular school year,” said Reddick. “First and foremost, we want to provide as good a learning environment as we can for our children.”
Reddick added that the Gadsden City, City of Attalla and Etowah County school districts are working together and coordinating a smooth start to the academic year.
“We’re three different districts with three different sizes, but we’re trying to be as accommodating and consistent as we possibly can in order to find the best way to open schools,” he said. “I’ve been very pleased with the input we’ve gotten from the individual schools.”
Reddick added that several committees have been formed and Zoom meetings have been held with school principals to work out details. Along with Gadsden City High School, the district includes Emma Sansom, Gadsden and Litchfield middle schools; Adams, Donoho, Eura Brown, Floyd, Mitchell, Thompson, Striplin and Walnut Park elementary schools and a secondary alternative school.
Reddick pointed out that although face masks are not mandated by the state health department, students are strongly encouraged to wear them while on campus. Teachers will be provided face shields.
“We want you as parents to send your kids to school with a mask,” said Reddick, adding that the individual schools will not be able to take every student’s temperature on a daily basis. “We’d like parents to do that as well. For is to (take temperatures) every day all day would greatly impact the time that we have for instruction. This has to be a joint effort between the school system and the parents.”
In addition, students will be discouraged from using the school water fountains and are encouraged to bring their own water.
“Social distancing is going to be our biggest challenge,” said Reddick. “Imagine that you’re in a 625-square foot classroom where normally there are about 24 kids. Now, with social distancing, that will allow for only 16 or 17 kids in that space. So we’re looking at possibly staggering some days. We may have some kids that come in person on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and have Tuesdays and Thursdays for virtual [learning]. But nothing is set in stone right now.”
Reddick noted that the Google Classroom for remote learning would be similar to that used during the spring semester following the shutdown.
“We’re taking every precaution to ensure that if your child does return to school for face-to-face instruction, we’ll provide the utmost safety for that child. If you chose remote [learning], you’ll be provided with every resource necessary for your child to have a great learning experience.” Reddick also addressed the issues of social distancing in regard to the transportation of students to and from school and the distribution and consumption of food on campus.
“We’ve been discussing the possibility of limiting the number of students on our busses, which holds between 44 to 46 kids. We may have to cut that [number] in half. There might be some parents who will opt to dive their kids to school, so that opens up some space.”
School cafeterias will not be used for the time being. Instead, students will eat their lunches in the classroom in order to limit access to large group gatherings. In addition, all physical education classes will take place outside school buildings.
“We’re really concerned about that on the elementary school level, because that’s a vital part of a student’s day,” said Reddick. “We’re focused on making sure that we have as much outdoor activity as we possibly can, and that can include lunchtime. That’s something for the individual schools to address.”
Reddick reminded parents to visit the school district’s website and fill out a survey in regard to the above teaching options. He said that so far, 40 percent of parents surveyed wanted their children to attend school on campus.
“In a nutshell, we’ll open school in a traditional manner; however, we will offer some other options, such as remote and blended learning opportunities,” he said. “We’ve met with other superintendents across the state, and everybody realizes that this will be a difficult year coming up.”