Gulf Shores City Schools announce Safe Return to School plan

By Melanie LeCroy
Posted 7/15/20

Gulf Shores City Schools announced the Safe Return to School plan July 9. School will start on schedule, Aug. 12, and students will have the choice to learn in a traditional setting or a virtual …

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Gulf Shores City Schools announce Safe Return to School plan

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Gulf Shores City Schools announced the Safe Return to School plan July 9. School will start on schedule, Aug. 12, and students will have the choice to learn in a traditional setting or a virtual format.

Superintendent Matt Akin said, “our goal was to provide as much information as possible to our parents so that given the option between traditional school and virtual school, they would have as much information as possible to make the best decision possible for their kids.”

Teachers will deliver face-to-face instruction but also maintain content and assignments online for possible short-term absences by students due to COVID-19 exposure or infection. Middle school and high school teachers will use Canvas as the online platform for maintaining assignments, while elementary school teachers will use Google Classroom. For students who must be out of school for short periods of time, our goal is to provide a seamless transition from the traditional classroom to a temporary online environment.

Students in grades K-12 have the option to remain at home and attend classes online. Gulf Shores Virtual Academy admission requirements for Gulf Shores residents have been waived for the 2020-2021 school year and is open to students outside of the district.

Students who select the virtual education option will be required to participate in this program for a minimum of one quarter. At that time, students may transition to traditional school or continue virtual education. Students with an Individualized Education Plan, Gifted Education Plan, 504 Plan, and/or English Language Learner Plan will receive approved accommodations.

While school is scheduled to start on time not everything will be “back to normal.” The Safe Return to School plan includes these changes:

“We have an estimate of over 600 children, about 25 to 30 percent of our student body would ride the bus at any given time. They are pretty full buses and that is one of the things we are wanting to be extra careful about. The most important thing is we need parents help screening kids before they leave each morning,” Akin said.

Monitoring children for symptoms starts at home. Gulf Shores City School is relying on parents to check their child’s temperature every morning and keep their child at home if the child has a temperature of 100.4 or higher and monitor their child for symptoms of COVID-19. Symptoms  include fever, cough, congestion, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, loss of taste or smell, chills, or gastrointestinal symptoms every morning and keep the child at home if the child has any of these symptoms.

Each school is equipped with several handheld infrared thermometers. Any student who presents with COVID-19 symptoms during the school day will be quarantined until the student leaves campus.

Parents should notify the school nurse as soon as possible if their child is staying home from school due to COVID-19 and the school nurse will coordinate the excuse of COVID-19 related absences, and these absences will not impact truancy.

“I do expect there will be students that test positive or have symptoms who will have to stay home for a number of days and our concern is being able to provide that instruction. It is not going to be like the old days where you are out three to five days and then come back and the teacher gives you the work you missed. What we want to happen is, assuming the child is well enough while they are quarantining, they can log in to their computer. We have purchased devices for everyone, and we have a learning management systems that they can keep up with even while they are home. It is the short-term absences that we are really focused on. Kids being able to stay on track,” Akin said.

As for fall sports, the Alabama High School Athletic Association is “full speed ahead.”

“The athletic association announced it was full speed ahead, but it obviously depends on what happens in the next month as far as infection rates go. I think one of the decisions that all communities, including us, are going to have to make is capacity at sporting events. Everyone is talking about football but volleyball is also a fall sport. We will work with the city to determine what that looks like because we play in a city owned stadium. How many people can we have? If it’s 50% capacity, then how do we lay that out? I think the plan is for those sports to move forward but that could change,” Akin said.

Gulf Shores City School District is in a unique position. Being a small city school district allows the administrators to make quick decisions and adjust to guidance and data as it changes and Akin expects there will be changes throughout the year.

“I don’t think it will be a normal school year,” Akin said. “It is certainly unprecedented times but we are committed in either environment, virtual or traditional, to provide our students with a rigorous and personalized education. And most importantly to provide the safest environment possible. I ask you to be patient and flexible because I’m sure there will be changes as we go along.”

The Safe Return to School Plan can be found in its entirety at gsboe.org along with the Safe Return to School Survey.