Lawrence County public school students opting for traditional instruction this year will eat lunch in classrooms instead of cafeterias when needed for social distancing, and their teachers will be in face shields to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The first day of school is Aug. 12. Employees report Aug. 5.

“Some (parents) don’t have an option but traditional school for their children,” District 1 school board member Christine Garner said. “Parents have to work.”

She said she is worried about virtual instruction.

“We live in a rural county. Internet access is not very good in many parts of the county. My personal internet is horrible.”

Superintendent Jon Bret Smith and a COVID-19 committee have formalized plans offering traditional, blended and virtual school for the more than 4,000 school children in the county.

He said 40 school buses are being equipped with high-speed Wi-Fi to help reach families without adequate internet access. “We will put them in church or business parking lots where there is plenty of parking, and hopefully not too far from the students,” he said.

During a 28-minute virtual school board meeting Monday morning, Smith detailed the committee’s plans for providing safe learning. He said 75% of the parents are enrolling their children in the traditional option with 15% opting for virtual and 10% blended.

“The students in the higher grades are leaning more toward virtual,” he said.

He said the blended option for kindergarten through eighth grade will have students attending traditional school two times a week, two or three hours a day.

“It’ll be OK for the kids to bring lunch from home, but they can’t bring in a bunch of cupcakes to be passed around,” Smith said. “No child will have to eat in the classroom all of the time, either, but sometimes they will be eating in the classroom instead of the cafeteria. It depends on the school and number of students.”

He said hallway traffic will flow in one direction with smaller groups allowed in the hall.

Restroom breaks will be assigned, and water fountains will be turned off, he said.

For those choosing virtual classes, Smith said Lawrence County teachers will contact individual students at least weekly.

“No field trips will be allowed, and no visitors on campus will be allowed,” he said.

Transporting students to and from school will present challenges.

“We have to keep the kids safe,” Garner said. “Kids from the same family will be asked to sit together on the bus. The windows will be lowered, and buses will be sanitized after their routes.”

Face shields for staff

Smith said students will have assigned seats in classrooms and plexiglass partitions will be on reading tables.

“Employees will have face shields. We’ve bought several hundred face shields and masks,” he said. “It is important the students see the face of the K-4 teachers and the shape of their mouths when they pronounce words.”

Teachers will move from class to class, and class sizes including physical education will be smaller with social distancing in place. More custodial workers have been hired to handle the additional cleaning, Smith said.

As far as athletics, Smith said the system will follow the Alabama High School Athletic Association guidelines. “On road games as visitors, we’ll obey any ordinances the host city may have in place. … Pep rallies won’t be held unless we know social distancing is possible.”

He said individual special education students will be handled in line with the student’s individual education plan.

“We want to keep the kids safe. Educate the kids and do what’s best for the kids,” he said.

The system has purchased about 1,500 additional laptops, 28 temperature scanning devices and 30 more sanitizers. Smith said the money for the purchases has come from the federal Corona Virus Relief Fund and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund.

Preparation for college

Board member Beth Vinson said the students choosing virtual learning will be better prepared when they encounter online classes in college.

“Colleges have been doing some of these things for years,” Vinson said. “Attending classes remotely will help prepare kids for college classrooms.”

Smith agreed.

“Some innovative things will come out of this,” he said. “It’ll be a very rewarding year for our system.”

He said virtual classes will be in place if the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t slow and schools are closed like they were the last three months of the previous school year.

He said the committee studied about 20 different school systems’ pandemic plans and modified them to fit what would be best for Lawrence County’s students.

In other actions, the school board:

• Accepted resignations of Lyndsay Green, East Lawrence High School English teacher; Rachel Threet, East Lawrence Elementary School teacher; and Ashley Cartee, Indian Education instructor.

• Hired Tevin Terry, Lawrence County High School science teacher; Sedrick Johnson, Hatton High assistant principal; Jason Clark, East Lawrence High social science teacher; Katelyn Ray, Moulton Elementary School teacher; and Susan Lee, countywide pre-K auxiliary teacher.

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