DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Jason Barnett held a press conference last Friday, providing guidance and information for the reopening of schools for the 2020-2021 school year.

Recalling the shutdown that began in March following the COVID-19 pandemic Barnett said they have been working collectively with state officials to see how to move forward with the upcoming school year.

“This COVID-19 is going to go down as one of the most, if not the most, disruptive in modern history, especially in K-12 (education) history,” he said.

In working diligently to create a plan that meets the needs of students and staff, Barnett said they wanted to get the information regarding the reopening of schools out, so parents and guardians know what to expect and are informed.

“Our students only get one shot at getting a K-12 education, that’s all they get is one chance,” said Barnett.

Although upcoming challenges can not be anticipated, Barnett said they want to welcome their staff and students back in a safe manner while working closely with health experts, state officials, school leaders, industry specialists and families.

Barnett touched on various points that included safety first, maximizing the students learning environment, supporting families, students and faculty during this time and providing clear information.

He presented a “Families’ Guide for School Re-Entry” and touched on an “Educator's Guide” that would go into effect on July 3, 2020, but is subject to change.

DeKalb County teachers are set to begin the new school year on August 3, as previously scheduled. However, the student start date was pushed back to August 10 Barnett said the change would allow the teachers a little extra time to adjust.

“We are asking our staff to do so much, and they need a little extra time,” he said.

Barnett said teachers would be required to wear masks following Governor Kay Ivy’s “Safer At Home Order” educational institutions, item 13 (C) that includes all schools, public and private including elementary, secondary, postsecondary, technical and specialty schools: each employee shall, to the greatest extent practicable, wear a mask or other facial covering that covers his or her nostrils and mouth at all times when in regular interaction within six feet of a person from a different household.

Students are strongly encouraged to wear masks to campuses and will be left to the discretion of the parent or guardian. However, the use of masks or other facial covering by students during transportation will be directed by the confirmed cases of the coronavirus data provided by the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Barnett said students attending schools in a “Traditional Instruction” setting would begin the school year in a staggered entry for students to learn new routines and Chromebook usage.

[See staggered entry start schedule in photos above for a list of dates and order.]

With the staggered entry, district-wide assessments will be conducted to allow teachers to learn what skills may be missing from the previous year. Barnett said this would provide students and teachers with a better understanding of what goals to build on for the new school year.

Among some of the safety precautions and measures being implemented, custodial staff will receive training from a third-party provider. Restrooms will be sanitized multiple times per day, soap or hand sanitizer will be available in the bathrooms and throughout the school buildings, sanitizing chemicals and mopping equipment specifically designed to kill COVID-19 and prevent cross-contamination will be purchased and consistently used across the system.

Barnett said 700 hand sanitizer dispensers in use and buses would be sanitized between each route. Aside from the custodial staff receiving training, all other staff will receive Standard Precaution Training and promote handwashing and personal hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus and other airborne illnesses.

“It’s going to take all of us together. Parents and families are our first line of defense. We are going to rely heavily on you,” he said.

If your child is sick or is experiencing any of the signs and symptoms or the virus, Barnett advises the parents to keep the child at home and let the school know. He said they are going to be lenient with absences.

The second point on the screening continuum is transportation. Upon entrance to the bus, the bus driver will visibly check for any symptoms or signs of the coronavirus or other visible illnesses.

School is the final point of the screening process. School system staff will visually check for symptoms, including temperature checks or confirmation with families that the students are COVID-19 symptom-free.

This upcoming 2020-21 school year, parents may select between two options for students to receive instruction, traditional instruction or virtual instruction.

Barnett said traditional learning students are anticipated to participate in on-campus instruction for the duration of the year. However, due to the coronavirus crisis, students enrolled in traditional learning may be required to transition to remote learning led by the student- assigned classroom teacher.

DeKalb Virtual Academy (DVA) is an online instructional opportunity for students in grades K-12. Barnett said DVA is a rigorous program in which most learning takes place at home. Due to the pandemic, a trial period will be offered to first-time DVA students. The regular enrollment period resumes July 13, 2020. For additional information, visit www.dekalbk12.org.

Barnett also highlighted the implementation of the One-to-One Device Initiative. Beginning in August 2020, DeKalb County schools will provide Chromebooks for students in grades third through twelfth to supplement learning in the classroom and for home instruction should schools be forced to close temporarily for health concerns.

During the closure in the spring, he said students wanted to learn but often didn’t have the adequate devices to do so. Therefore, the one-to-one device initiative will eliminate that issue.

Barnett said the next step was internet access, and he can’t thank FTC enough for all their help setting up hotspots throughout the community.

“We are excited about the partnership that they have always provided for us,” he said.

Regarding extra-curricular activities, Barnett said all athletic teams, band, cheer and academic clubs would follow the guidance as applicable during meetings, practices, transportation, competition and other organized activities provided by the Alabama High School Athletic Association, ADPH, Alabama State Department of Education and the DeKalb County Board of Education.

Barnett said it is anticipated that national guidelines will be provided for football season in the upcoming week and information will be shared as it is received.

Following the press conference, DeKalb County Schools published the Families’ Guide for School Re-Entry for the 2020-2021 school year, which provides details over various topics on how the new years will run.

As previously stated, Barnett said the guidance is not all-inclusive or finalized but is meant to serve as a tool to support and help make the new school year a success.

The guide can be found via DeKalb County Superintendent Jason Barnetts Facebook page @DrJasonBarnett.

– Editor’s note: Other aspects of the Families’ Guide for School Re-Entry 2020-2021 School Year will be discussed in an upcoming article being developed by staff writer Cinthia Rico and will be featured in a future edition of The Times-Journal.

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