School systems hope long holiday weekend will dwindle COVID-19 numbers

·4 min read

All three public school systems in Etowah County opted for virtual learning days on

Friday because of staffing shortages from COVID-19 cases within their systems. Both Etowah County Schools and Gadsden City Schools are set to return in-person on Tuesday, with Attalla City Schools returning on Wednesday.

“The plan is to get a five-day reset once we get students off campus and bring everybody back on Wednesday,” Attalla City Schools Superintendent Jeff Colegrove said.

Gadsden City Schools Superintendent Tony Reddick said his system will be using these four days with students off campus for the cleaning team to come in and sanitize everything within their schools.

“Our (schools are) already pretty clean, but with the concern about COVID, I think people would be a little more comfortable if they saw we were diligent about our efforts on sanitizing,” he said.

Etowah County Schools Superintendent Dr. Alan Cosby said his system's decision was based mostly on staffing issues over the course of the week, but he's looking to return in-person classes on Tuesday.

“We’ll be back in regular face-to-face class on Tuesday,” he said. “Right now, we’re not looking at extending it, but it’s something that we’re looking at pretty much daily based mainly on staffing.”

Colegrove echoed this stance, saying, “There’s a lack of substitutes and to keep the school doors open, we have to have CDP staff, bus drivers and adults in classrooms, and we were stretched really, really thin.”

Cosby said when there is a staffing issue, it negatively impacts the school system’s operations. He reported that this week, 57 faculty and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We report every Thursday on the state department’s dashboard,” he said. “That’s several days that the system rears based on how the mechanism works.”

Reddick said that his system's decision to be virtual on Friday was made easier by the fact that schools already were set to release early because of the Unity in the Community/Martin Luther King Jr. Parade in Gadsden that afternoon. However, he had several people within the system tell him that they would not attend.

He reiterated that e-learning days are not “a vacation" for the system.

“Teachers are still coming into the schools if they can during these days,” Reddick said. “I’m sure they’d be able to continue to do their job just as well at home, but they are coming here so that there are fewer distractions here than at home.”

All three superintendents say virtual learning will be reassessed on a regular basis, with Reddick saying the schools in his system will be evaluated individually every couple of days based on their need to continue virtually.

“We have allowed our schools to make the decision to go virtual, with clearance from me based on what their circumstances were,” he said. “To continue with e-learning after this, we would have to hit a 5% positivity rate within the system and I’m glad to say we have not reached that yet.”

School systems are preparing to return face-to-face instruction next week by encouraging students and faculty to continue proper hygiene protocols as recommended by the CDC, and continuing their cleaning regime of desks and other surfaces used in schools regularly.

“I’m asking students today that when they come back, they continue to clean their desks and practice protocols like we’ve tried to do throughout the pandemic,” Cosby commented.

Colegrove added, “We’re keeping the same protocols as we always have. We’re disinfecting, cleaning as much as possible, trying to mitigate the spread of COVID.”

Both Cosby and Colegrove say face masks are still going to remain optional for their students and faculty to wear.

“With the new guidelines, if you are positive and able to return after five days, then you have to mask for an additional five days as well,” Colegrove said. “That’s our guidelines and the CDC’s guidelines as well. If they are away for five days, they must wear masks for an additional five days.”

However, Reddick said the current mask mandate in Gadsden City Schools set to expire Tuesday is likely to be extended.

“With the numbers as they are right now and their potential to grow, I think that it would be wise to extend it until we see a definitive decline in the numbers,” he said. “If the numbers continue as they are, then we probably will keep that mask mandate in place until the time comes to see if we can change it again.”

This article originally appeared on The Gadsden Times: School systems hope long weekend will dwindle COVID-19 numbers

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