Cunningham details school precautions

Fort Payne Superintendent Jim Cunningham offered a deeper look into what school will be like when students return on August 12.

“There’s going to be obstacles to deal with, but we are going to deal with them as best we can,” Cunningham told the school board at its July 23 meeting.

He said 80% of city students have enrolled for traditional face-to-face instruction in classrooms. Roughly 650 kids will attend online, locked in for the first nine weeks. Traditional students will be able to switch to virtual, and if there is a serious outbreak forcing schools to close, Cunningham said there will be a seamless transitioning of everyone to virtual.

Cunningham said students can still contact principals before the first day of school to attend virtually.

Online students can still participate in extracurricular events and will still be required to attend in person for state testing. Home-based students can get a lunch bag from school. A limited number of the traditional students will eat in the lunchroom while others will have their meal delivered to the classroom, ordering via a smartphone app.

The “very rigorous” statewide virtual curriculum was launched on July 23, he said. Teachers can track whether students are actually participating once logged in. Faculty assigned these online courses will be personnel comfortable with the technology. All electives are available virtually, he said.

With fewer bodies on campuses, social distancing will be stressed with desks realigned and students moving in directional lanes down hallways. Floor markings will indicate appropriate distancing. Class changes will be staggered to limit how many students are moving in the hallways at any given time.

“Wearing masks on buses or in situations where social distancing isn’t practical is non-negotiable,” Cunningham said.

Fort Payne is the first school system in Alabama to add HEPA filtration and UV-C light to fleet buses to target bacteria and viruses as the air inside completely circulates 12 times per hour. In tests of air purifiers using a petri dish containing SARS-CoV-2, 84% of the virus was inactivated after 10 minutes.

The system will use low-odor cordless electrostatic sprayers that kill 99.9% of bacteria in five seconds, including cold and flu viruses found on buses, in classrooms and on surfaces such as doorknobs and railing. Hand sanitizer will be widely accessible and only three students will be allowed in bathrooms at any given time.

“We are asking kids not to share school supplies, food or drinks,” Cunningham said. “We also need them to keep their backpacks clean to contain the spread of germs.”

All buses are now equipped with WiFi. Student drop-offs from cars will be moved back five minutes to allow more time for buses to unload before school.

No lockers will be issued for at least the first nine weeks. Breaktime will be conducted inside classrooms.

Students will use disposable paper cups at water fountains. The Code of Conduct rules will be strictly enforced.

For P.E., students will not “dress out” in locker rooms and activities will move outdoors as much as possible.

“There will be a lot of movement, but it will be spread out,” Cunningham said. Social distancing steps will also effect students participating in band and chorus programs, which are being broken into smaller groups for practicing for performances.

Cunningham said the earliest athletic events can be scheduled is August 22, and there are plans to go forward with football, volleyball and cross country track.

Parents should check for symptoms before putting their child on a bus or dropping a child off if they have a fever of 100.6. If a traditional student is tested for it after being around someone else identified through contact tracing (such as a family member) but is asymptomatic, that child should transition to virtual until he or she tests negative.

Parents will need to email absentee excuses to school administrators rather than visiting in person.

Students who become ill during the school day will go to a quarantined section of the school nurse’s office, isolating until a single parent arrives.

In classrooms and on buses, students will have assigned seats that can be used to contact trace.

To view the full plan for reopening schools in English or Spanish versions, visit

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