Despite ever-changing information, Rick Townsend, Superintendent of Pickens County Schools, is confident they have a good plan to resume school on August 3. Townsend said as a system, they had to consider what the ideal would be as well as what was practical and by putting teams in place to analyze both aspects, combined with the unique needs of the individual schools and come up with a plan.
Based on the guidelines from the Georgia Department of Public Health, Pickens County is considered a “minimal or moderate spread” location or yellow. Townsend said up until last week, the Georgia DPH, was considered green, meaning there was very little to no spread, but the department redesigned the criteria.
“I don’t know of any counties who are green right now,” Townsend said, adding that next week might paint a different picture because the information and recommendations have been very fluid. “They are now looking at how different spreads would impact the community.” He used the example of if there was an outbreak at a nursing home, how would it affect the schools.
Masks or No Masks
Masks will be expected when students and staff cannot social distance, such as on the bus and transitioning between classes.
However, Townsend said, there are times it won’t be practical.
“It’s important that students see the teacher’s mouth when teaching phonics or in guided reading,” he said.
“We know the younger children are going to struggle with the masks,” he said.
He also said that when students are working on group projects and are very close, they are expected to wear masks, but if they are sitting in their desks, and the teacher is at the front of the class, teaching, then going without masks is acceptable.
The system will provide one masks, but parents are welcome to provide masks for their children.
There will be wellness stations at each school for students and staff that do not feel well, but they will not require COVID-19 testing.
Camp and recess will continue in the elementary schools, but may look differently than previous years.
“Our principals will be making those decisions for their schools,” he said.
With transportation, students are expected to wear masks. Loading will assigned seats from rear to front when loading. Students will exit front to back and busses will be disinfected between routes.
Visitors and Volunteers
Visitors will wear masks while in the building, said Townsend. Volunteers will still be needed, but the number will be reduced.
“Unfortunately, we have to limit volunteer opportunities,” he said.
SEE THE RETURN TO SCHOOL PLAN HERE.
First day of school for Pre-K and Kindergarten
Townsend said he knows it’s important to parents to be able to walk their new students to pre-k or kindergarten classes and it will be allowed on the first day, if parents are masked. After that, it will be normal drop off.
Other Aspects of Traditional School
Townsend said before and after care programs will remain and didn’t anticipate a change in cost to those programs.
Cafeteria workers are working on a plan to provide meals to students while maintaining safety standards. Workers would be masked when students enter the cafeteria.
Pickens Virtual Academy
Parents wanted options
“We had many parents ask for a virtual option,” said Townsend. “So, we gave them one. They deserve it.”
That option is the Pickens Virtual Academy, using Pearson Connexus as the platform. Students sign up by every semester.
It costs Pickens County Schools about $220 per student for the virtual academy. Students enroll each semester, allowing them to change their school type at the end of the semester from traditional to virtual or vice versa.
Townsend said that so far they’ve had about 300 students enroll in the virtual academy and he expects that number to grow by the time registration ends on July 13.
The school system hosted a virtual webinar about the virtual academy which had more than 200 parents tuning in to learn about the school. The recorded webinar has had 30,000 views since Monday.
READ ABOUT THE WEBINAR HERE.
Should COVID-19 cases surge, students in traditional school will switch to distance learning, said Townsend. Teachers will provide work, which will be graded and count toward the final day. While he hopes it doesn’t happen, nothing is certain at this point.
“It’s almost like waiting for a snow day,” he said. “We may get a call at 10 p.m. saying there is no school.”
All students, traditional and virtual, will be issued a Chromebook. Pearson representatives said in Monday’s webinar that additional school supplies would be furnished by their company, but most curriculum called for standard household items. Any art supplies would be furnished by the schools.
As of July 8, 2020 the Georgia Highschool Sports Association had football schedules posted with games starting August 21, but Townsend said anything could change and encouraged parents and students to stay in touch with coaches or staff.
Students attending the Pickens Virtual Academy will be eligible to play and participate in any extracurricular activities.
SEE THE GHSA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE HERE.