UPDATE (11:02 a.m.) — Here is the letter that Baldwin County Superintendent Eddie Tyler sent to parents about the upcoming school year:
I hope this message finds you well and having enjoyed your summer thus far.
Last month, I committed to bring you information on our return to school after the 4th of July and today I will be sharing with you our plans for school this fall.
This is a long email. I have a lot to share.
The time has come for you to join me in dealing with the reality which awaits us this fall. After you read this, I am sure you will want more information. I am sure there will be many more questions than answers. Please know that I’m going to be sending out an update each week through the remainder of the summer which will provide you the details on all of our policies and expectations.
The reason I am not putting everything out now is because we expect things will change over the next few weeks, just as they have changed over the last month. In some instances, I will wait until closer to the start of school to make some decisions, so that we have the best information to make the best decision and so that I can minimize any changes.
It is my goal that whatever information I give to you today, you can trust and rely upon for the fall semester of school. As much as I try, I need you to know that our situation is subject to the discretion of people higher up who could change what we put in place. The governor or the president can make certain decisions. The medical community, the CDC and others could make announcements which would cause us to operate differently. While I would prefer to not make any changes to our plans, when I do it will be a result of what others told us we have to and/or because we believe it is in the best interest of your child.
Public schools are deemed an essential industry by the United States government. This is an important distinction as it requires us to perform our duties to keep our country operating. If our schools close, businesses close. During the winter, when we close for a snow day, local governments and health providers follow our announcement with their own last-minute emergency closures and cancellations.
Barring an order from the governor to close our schools, we will be open for school in Baldwin County on August 12th as previously scheduled. This opening will come with risk and as a parent you need to understand this risk as you will have a choice to make.
Our team has spent the last few months planning to create a safe environment for your children in our traditional school setting. We have been reviewing medical guidance from the health department, the CDC, pediatric doctors, medical directors, policy makers and elected leaders. We have been provisioning supplies to sanitize and make our schools as safe and healthy as possible. We have truckloads of hand sanitizer and disinfectants being distributed to all of our locations. We have plans regarding wearing masks. We have plans to monitor student and staff temperatures while in our buildings. We have plans to implement what social distancing we can on campus, in our traditional school setting. We have been working on plans to be transparent and notify parents about sickness within our schools, while respecting privacy laws and regulations. I think your Baldwin County Schools are as well prepared as we can be.
PARENTS — Even with all of these precautions and all of these plans – I need you to understand that by choosing to send your child to traditional school, it is likely they will come in contact with the coronavirus. This is a reality we have come to understand and you must accept if you choose to send your child to traditional school.
No matter how much hand sanitizer we put out, no matter how much disinfectant we spray – children are going to be children. They’re going to hug each other, drink from each other’s drinks, poke, prod, spit and cough on each other. I wish I could tell you they will behave at all times but you know your children better than we do and let’s remember, they are children. So even with the best laid plans, we are engaging in an environment of children who have difficulty focusing and embracing the seriousness of the issue.
With that understanding, let’s talk about returning to school.
Classes for the fall of 2020 will begin on August 12th.
Parents, you have two options. You can either enroll your child in our traditional school at whichever school location for which they are currently zoned or you can elect to enroll your child in Virtual School.
Traditional school will be a little different with plans for masks, temperature checks and some social distancing implementations but for the most part we will be the same. Classes for all students, in all grade levels will operate Monday through Friday. For those of you who are worried about sending your child to a traditional school setting because of the coronavirus, we welcome you to enroll your child in the virtual program.
The virtual school is part of a program we have offered for over a decade in Baldwin County. In the past, this award-winning program has been limited to middle and high school students, but this year we have opened enrollment to elementary students as well. This is not the same distance learning program you and your child experienced during the spring. This is a rigorous, intensive instruction and assessment program. This program is built around a comprehensive software and curriculum management system which covers not only our core but also elective subjects.
The Virtual School will take applications from all children in all grade levels. We have adjusted our previous guidelines to ensure all students have the opportunity to enroll in Virtual School. We will work with students who are involved in our special programs. There are no in-person classes for virtual students but there are in-person assessments. Tutoring is available by appointment at either our main virtual school facility, located on Highway 98 near Montrose or in our remote facilities across Baldwin County.
I know many of you do not have the ability to stay at home with your children. That will need to be part of your consideration. Depending upon the age and maturity level of your child, you will need to make a decision as to whether or not leaving them at home works for your family. Alabama has certain age requirements to leave children unattended, but you also need to determine if you think your child is mature enough to be self-directed in their studies. A large part of your child’s success in the Virtual School program relies upon their own self-direction and motivation.
If you are interested in enrolling your child in Virtual School, or just learning more about the Virtual School option, please visit BaldwinVirtual.com. To prevent any delay in enrollment, please complete your SNAP registration at your child’s regular “base” school prior to completing an enrollment application for Virtual School.
Some people have asked if they can start in one program and change to another. Maybe you start in Virtual School but realize it doesn’t work for your child. Whichever path you choose, students will be allowed to reconsider their choice and change enrollment any time in the month of August. After Labor Day, a student may only change their enrollment at the end of a quarter or semester depending upon their grade level.
We will be transporting children to and from traditional school as usual, but we will not be transporting children to Virtual School. I will have more to say about our busing operations in the coming weeks but I would strongly suggest that parents who send their child on the bus for convenience, consider alternate modes of transportation because of the level of contagion as a result from overcrowded busses.
While we have presented you with two options – virtual and traditional, please know that our team has considered many options. We considered hybrid school where we attend on certain days with certain grade levels and others on alternate days. In evaluating all of these options we came back to the same problem – how do we serve families who have no one at home take care of their children on certain days of the week when they’re not in school?
We have to recognize that when children are not in school, some parents can’t work. In those cases, they can’t make money to pay their bills. The moratorium on foreclosures and evictions passed on June 1st and many of the families we serve would be harmed if they could not go to work. In all of these different scenarios we have to remember that our public schools are an essential industry. We are required to operate because if our schools are not open, then businesses are closed, and the impacts are felt upon everybody.
Please discuss this decision with your children. I have heard from parents whose children have been watching the news and they’re very scared about the coronavirus. They are afraid that if they go back to school, they may get it and they may die. I have also heard from some that they are suffering from a lack of social interaction and they want to be back in class and not at home. All of this impacts your children greatly. Whatever your decision is as a family, I hope that you will take an opportunity to sit down with your child and discuss the options and make sure that they understand and feel comfortable in the decisions which are being made.
I know this is a lot and I want you to know that I am not comfortable with the pressure that is on you as parents to make the best choice for your child. I also know that you will want more information like when will we be wearing masks, who will be wearing masks, what can be on the masks, what if my child has a temperature at school, what if the children are not symptomatic, what if a parent is sick at home, what if my child is exposed, what about spacing on the bus, what about sports, are there temperature checks on the bus, will students eat in the cafeteria, will you be preparing food. I promise you that we are going to answer all of these questions and many more over the next few weeks but some of this depends on how many people choose to enroll in the Virtual School option regardless of our plans.
Parents, I wish with all my heart we were not here, but I promise you that I am doing my best, and our best, to give your child the safest experience we can under whichever choice you make. I will be back in touch with you next week to discuss the next round of information regarding transportation, school operations and sanitization procedures.
BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WKRG) — Later this morning, leaders with the Baldwin County School District will release details for their reopening plan for the upcoming school year. The conference will begin at 11 am and will be streamed on WKRG.com.
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