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Superintendent discusses tentative plans for new school year

By Drew Bergman

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting of the Russell County School Board Superintendent Michael Ford discussed the plan in progress for the upcoming school year.

While the plans discussed in this article do reflect current thinking and planning, these plans are not yet locked into place and subject to change pending further discussions with the health department and any additional guidance that might come from Frankfort.

As of now, the most noticeable change being looked at for the upcoming school year would involve teachers of students in grades 8 and below being the ones to rotate classrooms throughout the day, rather than their students. “K, 1, and 2 students would all stay with one teacher throughout the day and from grades 3 and up the teachers would come to the class,” Superintendent Ford said after the meeting.

Per state guidelines, all desks must be facing in the same direction. Classroom spaces that had been utilizing tables would see those tables go into storage and their old desks come out of storage. RCS does have plans for purchasing additional desks, but as this is all a work in progress firm figures are not currently available.

To help facilitate the free and safe movement of teachers throughout the day, RCS is purchasing additional carts for teachers to utilize throughout the day as they rotate between classrooms. “That’s not a new concept, it’s been practiced in Russell County before as well as other districts.”

The reasoning behind this plan is to help school officials limit the contact students have across the school population. This would be helpful in the event of a student coming down with a case of COVID-19, as well as easing the process of contact tracing should such a case occur.

“If we keep our students in one population really well and there is a case in a particular class, then the entire school or the entire district doesn’t have to be shut down, that way we can be really surgical in quarantining that one classroom,” Superintendent Ford said.

On the bus students will be required to wear a mask and Russell County Schools is purchasing both reusable cloth masks and disposable ones. The reusable cloth masks will be made available for students as the school system is requiring them. The disposable masks will be on hand with school bus drivers in the event that a student forgets theirs.

Masks will be required in classrooms where six-foot social distancing spaces cannot be maintained. Some Russell County classrooms do have adequate spacing to allow students to be unmasked, but not all.

To help with the continued education of Russell County students, RCS is moving forward with an enhanced distance learning program for students that have medical or familial reasons not to attend in the fall. “We’ll have a virtual distance learning option certainly more robust than the NTI packets. We would expect students to get up with us in the morning and work with us throughout the day,” Superintendent Ford said. “Very much like a traditional school day schedule.”

The school board recently purchased Chromebooks to help make distance learning technologies available to all Russell County students and they are continuing to work with DuoBroadband to provide additional internet coverage in the area. “I don’t want to speak for DuoBroadband, but they are offering discounts to families who are currently without internet and we’re going to help distribute information out to families that our internet providers are offering the discount.”

RCS is also working out the mechanics of how to feed each of their approximate 3,100 students while maintaining social distancing. “We cannot feed the number of students in the time period we could in a traditional school day because we would have students in just one after another and cafeteria staff cooks to the line,” Superintendent Ford said.

“We’ve also come up with a plan that would allow, maybe not every student, but a majority of kids can get a hot meal.” Students will be equipped with a barcode on a lanyard rather than having to key in their number for mealtime in order to speed the process of getting them through and limit their contact in the cafeteria. To further limit the exposure of mealtimes, schools will continue to utilize the same type of boxed meals that what they delivered to students during the last two months of the school year.

With everything else on the minds of Russell County educators they have not forgotten the spirit of school that extends beyond the classroom. “I want to give a shout out to Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Coffey, our athletic director and our assistant athletic director as well as all our coaches and assistant coaches and our health department. We have been in constant contact since practice and conditioning started up. They submitted the plans to me, I submitted them up to Mr. Jonathan Dye at the health department and he has been fabulous to review them.”

Luckily for all parties, Russell County coaches have provided well-designed plans that have only needed minor adjustments. “We’re purchasing everything that’s required even the thermometers, sanitizer, gloves, masks, whatever is needed. And part of that is the Federal CARES Act money which is designated for just this kind of thing.”

The next large group activity that Russell County Schools will need to turn their attention to the marching band and bandleader, Mr. Curtis Irvin.

Again, all these plans are subject to chance, but the information here does represent the current thinking and best planning as of this publication.

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