State superintendent discusses coronavirus impact on upcoming school year

State superintendent discusses coronavirus impact on upcoming school year
State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey talked about how the state will approach opening schools this fall. (Source: WAFB)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The school year’s been over for a little over a week for the kids, but state education officials are already looking at how to approach the fall as the coronavirus remains a concern.

State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey said the plan is to release a “Road Map Back to School” document by June 19 that will give direction to local school boards about how to make decisions going forward.

Mackey also addressed the “what ifs.” The “what if” of another potential coronavirus outbreak in the fall. But some things like another outbreak are difficult to plan for.

“We are making contingency plans, obviously, for sporadic outbreaks across the state," said Mackey. “We can’t see where this is gonna pop up and that makes it so much harder to plan.”

Plans are being made around potentially socially distancing in classrooms. But even that presents its own challenges.

“Gonna be very difficult to do. We are looking at our options and other things to mitigate the spread,” said Mackey.

Those other things include what they’re being told by health experts: have excellent hand washing, keep surfaces clean, clean doorknobs and digital-touch tablets that are commonly shared.

As for face coverings, right now Mackey says there isn’t a plan in place to make face coverings required, but schools will need to consider where kids and teachers will need to wear them, like the hallways for instance.

Some other methods the state superintendent says they’ve been looking at include limiting group sizes.

“So if you have 15 students in your classroom, how do you keep those 15 students together during the day but not have as much interaction with other students,” said Mackey.

The state superintendent says they’ve been following research done closely in northern Europe where schools were not canceled to gauge how to better approach opening schools back up to students. In the research they saw, he says they noticed some children may be carriers of the virus but may not transmit it to adults. He also said the research showed that the vast majority infected kids were not in serious condition.

But still, he wants to be cautious, as the studies that were conducted were only short-term studies of about 2-3 months.

"As we do in schools, we’re gonna do everything we can to make sure that children are safe and that they are no in harms way. We’re having to follow all the research just like everybody else,” said Mackey.

While no decision about how to approach the classroom has been made at this time, a decision about distance learning has been made. Mackey says they will move forward with it this fall.

“It’ll give our schools a better opportunity if they have to do distance learning,” he said.

Some students with health issues may be strictly forced to do distance learning at home, others may be on and off depending on what’s happening with their family and within their community, Mackey said.

The federal money afforded to the state by Congress allowed the state to purchase online programming for local school districts to use. The end of this past school year students had to do distance learning at home, and Mackey says it went better than expected, but noticed it was only successful when students had the right equipment and a proper internet connection.

The challenge, Mackey says, will be for those kids who do not have the correct equipment or proper connection to do distance learning. He says the state will have to work to provide those materials.

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