By GOOSE LINDSAY
The first day of school in Morgan County is still more than a month away, but with ongoing concerns over COVID-19, Morgan County Director of Schools David Treece and his staff are hard at work developing a plan to not only educate students, but keep them safe as well.
As part of coming up with a plan, Treece is hoping to find a way to satisfy the nearly 60 percent of people that completed a survey saying they want school to resume as normal on Aug. 5 with those that are skeptical with allowing their children back into a school building with hundreds of people.
The school system’s plan is to offer both scenarios.
“We’ve taken ideas and thoughts about what is the safe but effective way to educate our children in Morgan County,” Treece said. “Our plan is to try to do traditional school with the option of remote learning for the families that feel like it might not be safe for their children to go to school in the school building in a traditional way.”
Treece says the biggest obstacle for online learning is Internet access.
“We’ve worked with Highland Coop,” he said. “About 50 percent of our families in Morgan County purchase some sort of Internet with the provider. Se we have about 50 percent that don’t have it with Highland. They might have it with hot spots or their cell phones, but we’re going to use our Chromebooks, our computers to send them home with the students… If they don’t have Internet access, we’re going to make sure our parking lots at our schools have Internet.
“For students and families that don’t have Internet, we’re going to use a USB drive or thumb drive for those students to be able to download materials.”
With COVID-19 still on the rampage, Treece says schools will be cleaner than ever, and part of that comes from a $722,000 federal grant.
“We’re going to step up our ability to do that,” Treece said of cleaning. “Through the CARES Act funding from the federal government, we’ve been able to purchase hand sanitizer stations along with cordless sanitizing machines that can be used in the building to fog an area to make sure its sanitized, especially for the common area for students.
“Each school will have to work on a schedule of how the bathrooms will be used so we won’t have mass gatherings of students at any place at one time.”
Simply getting students to school is a concern as buses are often crowded. Treece hopes more people can drop off and pick up their children at schools, but knows that isn’t possible for everyone. The plan for transportation is not complete, but masks on buses is an option.
“The possibility of students wearing masks on the bus is a definite possibility,” Treece said. “Students will start by sitting one to a seat and then as the route becomes more crowded, we’ll have to go two to a seat or have families sit together. We’ll have windows down for air flow and we’ll follow guidelines we’ve been given by the state.”
The wearing of masks has been a sore subject as some parents have said they will not send their children to school if masks are required, while other parents have said their children will not attend school if masks are not required.
“At the present time, masks are encouraged but we’re not going to mandate it because all the studies show that young children touch the mask more than they leave it alone so it may be more detrimental for young children to wear those,” Treece said.
Another step in combating COVID-19 at the school level will be mandatory temperature checks.
“We’ve got about one (infrared digital) thermometer for every 40 students,” Treece said. “Every person that comes into the building, staff, teachers, parents that may need to come into the office, they will all be screened for temperature.”
Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will not be allowed into the school until they have a letter from a doctor. Treece added the school system will have a plan in place if/when someone tests positive for COVID-19.
“We’ll follow the guidelines from the state, but we will quarantine and that’s where remote learning kicks in,” he said.
Through it all, Treece knows the current situation isn’t ideal, but believes everyone is working together for the best possible outcome.
“I really appreciate the support that we’ve had at Morgan County Schools from our local community,” he said. “From our parents that filled out the surveys, the teachers that showed up to the meetings, our community leaders to give us great ideas and great thought of what they want for our education to look like for our children.
“Our number one goal is the safety and security of our children, but also we have to educate them.”