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School system plans for return in August

By Michael Butler

The Tallassee City School system has released its 2020-21 school calendar. Plans are to proceed with in-school classes, although the 2019-20 year ended differently due to COVID-19.

School will begin on Aug. 19. The start date is a little later on the calendar from last year when it began on Aug. 7.

"The state has put together a roadmap for reentry into our schools," Tallassee City Schools superintendent Wade Shipman said. "A lot of those elements of the roadmap will give us direction, but a lot of the decisions will lay at the local school level. We expect to try and start the school year as normal or as much as the new normal is."

Shipman added that those decisions will be made with careful consideration from guidelines set by organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Alabama Department of Public Health.

"One key area that we've been working on is doing our best to elminate some of the gaps in our Wi-Fi coverage in terms of being able to get internet access at home. It's hard for me to think that there would be any superintendents in the state of Alabama that would think that we're not going to be in some virtual school in the fall."

For Tallassee's students, there could be an option to complete coursework from home or attend school in the traditional classroom setting.

"The Department of Public Health is putting together a rating system," Shipman said. "They rate each county based off of active cases. If you have a certain number of active cases, then you're going to be considered a red zone. There's going to be certain recommendations for that versus if you're in a green or yellow or orange.

"If our school becomes a hot zone in our area, we're probably going to go 50/50 meaning some of our kids come in one day and some kids go the next day in some kind of rotation. We may go 100 percent virtual until we're out of that red zone."

There could be an implementation of virtual software for the curriculum similar to the methods used to close out the school year last May.

'We did the best we could to finish out the year, but this year we want to do better than that. We want the look of our virtual learning to be better, so that we can continue to make some gains academically. I think things are falling into place, but there's a lot to do."

Shipman also noted that it is likely that the health of students, faculty and staff would be monitored on a regular basis.

"We'll have to develop some procedures on taking temperatures and isolating kids when they are sick. One of the biggest issues is going to be some of our faculty and staff. They are the groups that are at the most risk related to COVID."

The system has purchased equipment so that schools may be sanitized on a daily basis.

"I've just asked our central office and school staff's to wear masks. There are recommendations for face shields for teachers. I haven't decided if that will be required. There should be a way to social distance and spread the kids out the best we can.

"There is a contact tracing model. What if someone has been sick or has been around someone who has come down with it? We don't need to be setting ourselves up as a testing center. What we're looking at is having students have their temperature checked. We're going to see something like that."

The day after school is scheduled to start, the football season is slated to begin. Tallassee will renew its rivalry with Reeltown at J. E. "Hot" O'Brien Stadium on Aug. 20.

"The Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) is using some of the elements that are being discussed for schools in general," said Shipman. "If a school is in a red zone with a high number of cases, does that school forfeit their games? What's going to happen if another school chooses not to go into a red zone? Do they have to forfeit?'

AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese spoke at a recent state superintendents meeting in Point Clear.

"He did say if a team forfeits, it does count as a forfeit and there won't be any rescheduling of games," Shipman said. "I think sports and activities help us feel like we're back on a path towards normalcy. Everyone wants people to be safe. People know the situation we're in. People are going to make choices that other people wouldn't make. If that's the choice they make to attend a public event, then that's their choice."