Baldwin County Superintendant Tyler releases letter to parents on COVID plan

Baldwin County

BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WKRG) — Superintendent Eddie Tyler released a letter to parents concerning the county’s plan for COVID-19.

You can read the full letter below:

Parents,

I hope this note finds you healthy and excited to have your kids back in school today!

I want to bring you up to speed on a few things regarding COVID-19 including where we are today, how I believe we will finish this semester, what our plans are for school closure (should that be necessary) and what the return to school might look like in January. 

This is going to be another long email, so take a deep breath.

COVID-19 is everywhere in our community and across our country. There are people who are taking this in great stride and people who are beginning to panic. Counting today, we have 15 school days left until Christmas break. Tomorrow, it will be 14. Our plan is to take this one day at a time and our goal is to get to Christmas break without closing any schools.

Today we will likely publish the largest COVID-19 transparency report we have published thus far. It is very important to note that none of these people have been in our buildings for the last 10 days. These are people who called us today to inform us their child will not be at school because of COVID-19 symptoms or diagnosis as well as employees who may have fallen ill and tested positive over the break. The numbers you see on today’s report have nothing to do with COVID inside our buildings but it is our commitment to remain transparent to you. Please note this trickle in of notifications from parents’ and employees’ tests will likely continue into tomorrow’s report, too. 

Closure is a big topic. We have specific criteria for what will require the closure of a school, a grade level or even a feeder pattern. Before I get into those details, let me say up front, I have no plans to close the whole system between now and Christmas. If other leaders in positions greater than mine direct me to close the system, I will certainly do so. However, with the staged plans we have in place, I do not see a circumstance in which we would need to close the entire system at any point in the next three weeks.

Our plan developed a certain number of students, employees or support staff that can be absent from each area before we consider a closure. I’m not going to put those numbers out because they are confusing and vary school by school and grade-by-grade level. Those numbers will only trigger a recommendation to me and ultimately, I will make the final determination based on the details and what I believe will be safe for our employees, our school children and our communities.

The first recommendation will be to close a grade level if we see a significant spread within a grade level at a school. The closure will be either 7 or 14 days based upon the information we have available and could be extended. This will allow parents of students who may have been exposed the opportunity to determine if they are sick and whether they should return to school. This will also allow the opportunity to slow down any spread that might have taken place and allow our classrooms to experience further cleaning.

If another grade level within the same school meets the closure criteria during the initial closure, then I will be given a recommendation to close the entire school for an ADDITIONAL 7 to 14 days. So, it is possible we could see a closure longer than 14 days because the second closure would be added on to the initial closure. 

The grade level closure only applies to Pre-K through 8th grade. These schools have done a really good job of segregating their students by grade level but this is not so easily accomplished in high schools. 

For high schools, we will only have the option of a full school closure should I receive a recommendation based on the closure criteria at that school. If I announce a closure of a high school, it will be for the same type 7-to-14-day period as determined by the information given to me. 

There is also the possibility we could skip the grade level closure and go directly to a full school closure. We could find ourselves challenged with finding teachers or we could have such a significant number of students in multiple grade levels that it warrants a full school closure.

We could also see a feeder pattern closure (all schools which come under a high school in a specific area). We could find a high school or middle school impacted by another school closure where we are short on employees as a result of another school in the feeder pattern closing. We could also see a spread within families or a community so great it warrants greater action. 

So, in summary, students in grades Pre-K through 8th could see a grade-by-grade level closure from 7 to 14 days if certain criteria are met. If an additional grade level at the same school meets that criteria during the initial closure, then the entire school will close for another 7 to 14 days. For high school, we could be looking at a full school closure for 7 to 14 days if any grade level meets the closure criteria. We could also skip straight to a full school closure due to exposure, staffing or concerns as well as a full feeder pattern closure for the same reasons. 

Under any closure, our students will immediately move to distance learning. Throughout this year, our students have been working on their computers in Google classroom. Throughout the semester, we have asked teachers to do test runs on distance learning. Some teachers pre-record their lesson and students watch it at their desk in case we go to distance learning. All teachers have discussed with their students how to access and join active online learning. 

Should we close, we will move to online instruction the next day. Teachers will be required to continue reporting to work at school. We will continue serving meals. Take-out meals will be available for all students not at school. Our help desk and tech support line will be accessible for parents and students who need help from home.

We will do our best to provide as much advance notice as possible. There could be circumstances where notification of grade level or school closure could come the evening before a closure but I will do my best to not have that happen. When we close, students or parents will be provided any last-minute instructions from their teacher on how to join the online classroom(s) and will be required to attend their classes online or provide a written note from a parent explaining their lack of participation (such as no internet connection or illness). Students will be graded on their work and will be held accountable for their participation. This will include all students in all grade levels.

Students will have active classes. They will be directed in their studies. Elementary students will have a very structured online classroom during the day with a lunch break and then scheduled tutoring or small group at other times. Secondary students will continue their bell schedule routine, online – class by class. You will get more information about this from your local school principal and teachers when appropriate. 

This is a good opportunity to question your children about how they feel regarding distance learning and Google Classroom. If they don’t know what to do, suggest they get back with their teacher and figure out what they might have missed.

In summary, students in grades Pre-K through 8th could see a grade level closure from 7 to 14 days if certain criteria are met. If an additional grade level at the same school meets that criteria during the initial closure, then the entire school will close for another 7 to 14 days. For high school, we could be looking at a full school closure for 7 to 14 days if any grade level meets the closure criteria. We could also see full school or feeder patter closures. If we close, those students will be required to continue classes online. Online classes will begin the next school day following a closure and those students will be held accountable for their participation in the online classroom and they will be graded on their work.

I am prayerful we will not have to implement any of these closures before Christmas but the same protocol will apply next semester as well, so please make sure you have a full understanding of how this would work. Now let’s talk about returning to school in January.

At this time, I am considering delaying the students’ physical return to school until Monday, January 11th. I believe it is important for us to have a good break after Christmas and the New Year to ensure we do not bring the virus back into our buildings and prevent some type of start-stop-start-stop back-to-school crisis.

Please note that I said we would be delaying the students’ PHYSICAL return. Even though children may not be in the building, they will be attending classes online for that week. Teachers will be providing online instruction, from our school buildings, on the same structured schedule I described above for a school’s closure. We will serve meals, including to-go options for pick up. We will open our help desks for at home technical support. Everything will be the same as a closure detailed above. 

I know this is a lot of information and you’re going to hear more from me over the next few weeks. If I make the decision to delay the return, then you will get another email from me outlining those specific details. I’ll make that decision once my team can review the full details. I promise I will give you plenty of time to make employment or childcare arrangements.

Parents, please do not listen to rumors. It used to be funny when I had someone tell me something I was supposed to have said but didn’t. It’s not funny to me these days because I know how many of you panic and worry. I’m going to communicate with you directly and immediately if there is any information you need. If we announce a school closure or change any of these protocols, you will hear it from me immediately. It won’t leak out or spread. There are less than four people who would even know it’s a possibility. 

Finally, I want to remind you that we have COVID-19 in schools every day. It has been throughout our community in big-box stores, gas stations and everywhere you go. Our school buildings are probably the safest place for your children. Our buildings are sanitized every day with hospital-grade products. We wear masks every day. We social distance where possible and we use hand sanitizer sometimes hourly. 

When children are at home and away from school, they’re going to socialize with less supervision. Many younger children will likely be sent to a grandparent’s home which is going to potentially expose a higher-risk group of people to what may be an asymptomatic virus carrying person. We created an isolated, healthy learning environment for our kids at school and I’m going to do the best I can to keep our system open.

Please look for additional information from your local school principal. If you have any questions, please direct those to your local school principal. They will be working with teachers over the next few weeks to make sure we tighten up any loose ends and get ourselves prepared for what may be a disruptive winter.

Please remember to ignore rumors and look for official information from myself or your local school principal. Thank you for trusting us with your children, I take that honor very seriously. We will speak again soon.

Eddie Tyler,

Superintendent

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