Covid-19 has given new meaning to school choice.
Columbia County schools will open as planned on August 3, but classrooms will not be quite as full as normal. Students have been given two educational options for 2020-21 – traditional in-school instruction and a learn-from-home (LFH) model – because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Sandra Carraway, superintendent of schools, says that this fall about 85 percent of the district’s students will return for in-school learning. The remaining 15 percent, or 4,535, of the district’s students have chosen the online option. The projected enrollment for the upcoming school year is 28,864.
“The vast majority of our parents are ready and eager to send their children back to school. For those who aren’t, we certainly understand,” Carraway says. “We’re pleased to be able to offer an option.”
The first day of school for LFH middle and high school students will be August 10, and LFH elementary school students will start August 17.
Based on guidance from a number of state and national resources, the district will open schools under Enhanced Mitigation Measures. These measures require middle and high school students and staff members to wear face coverings during transitions, when gathered in large groups, on the bus and when social distancing is not possible. Masks are recommended under the same circumstances for elementary school students and staff members.
Additional safety and sanitation measures will be implemented on school buses, and the school district will follow Georgia High School Association guidelines for sporting events and practices.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics has clearly stated that children need to be in school,” Carraway says. “Students miss their friends. They miss their teachers. They miss the structure.”
When an in-school student or staff member tests positive for covid-19, the symptomatic person with a confirmed case or a suspected case (based on direct contact with an individual who tested positive) can return to school after at least three days pass since recovery (defined as having no fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms). In addition, at least 10 days must pass since symptoms first appear before an infected individual can return to school.
Asymptomatic persons with confirmed covid-19 can return to school after at least 10 days pass since the positive test and the person remains asymptomatic.
Carraway says the LFH curriculum will be much more rigorous during the 2020-21 academic year than it was in the spring when it was used as a stop-gap measure. High school students must commit to a learning model for a semester at a time, while middle and elementary school students must commit for a nine-week grading period.
Of the LFH students, 16.22 percent are in high school, 16.06 percent are in middle school and 15.1 percent are in elementary school.
If covid-19 cases surge in the area, the school district has contingency plans in place. In the case of moderate spread, students will attend school on a staggered basis. One group will go to class Monday and Wednesday, and the second group will go to school Tuesday and Thursday. All students will learn from home on Friday.
If the spread becomes substantial, then all students will learn from home.
“We’re watching the positive cases in our area, and we’ll modify our plans as need be,” Carraway says.
School board member Kristi Baker also cautions the community to remain vigilant. Just because schools are opening, she says, this is “not a free-for-all.”