Cleveland Board of Education members voted unanimously Tuesday to use the school system's first week of school as an orientation of new health and safety procedures during the coronavirus pandemic.
Aug. 10 through Aug. 13 will be full days with 25% of students present at a time. The days will be divided by last name, meaning last names A through D will attend their first day Aug. 10, E through L will attend Aug. 11, M through Q on the 12th, and R through Z on the 13th.
Friday, Aug. 14 will be an abbreviated day with all students present and the following Monday, Aug. 17, will be the first full day of school for all students across the district.
Transportation will continue this year, but drivers will be required to wear masks and it will be recommended students do the same. Director of Operations Hal Taylor noted that 40% of bus drivers are in the at-risk categories for severe illness if exposed to COVID-19. Students will have assigned seats on buses, loading in back-to-front and dismissing front-to-back to avoid mass contact between students, also helping with contact tracing if necessary.
Taylor and Supervisor of Secondary Education Jeff Elliott said the administration is recommending parents commute their students to school whenever possible, noting that in some instances it may not be a choice.
“We’re concerned that we might have routes that won’t run on some days due to sick drivers,” Taylor said. “If a driver gets sick and we can’t get a new one, it’s possible that we’ll have to notify parents that their route won’t run that day or that it will be very late. … It’s always been a possibility, but we’ve never not run a route.”
Likewise, keeping teachers healthy will be the “most challenging” aspect of reopening due to a lack of substitute teachers, administrators said.
Upon entering the school, students will have their temperatures checked with touchless thermometers provided by TEMA and the health department. Classrooms at lower grade levels will become the setting for most activities, including some meals, but all is subject to change, Supervisor of School Nutrition Gena Reed said.
Teachers will be required to wear masks in the classroom when coming closer than six feet with students. In many instances in education, social distancing cannot always be practiced when helping students, Elliott pointed out.
Students will be strongly encouraged to wear masks in school and the district has been given a 50-day supply of masks from TEMA for its entire student body. It’s still a question whether teachers, especially those with family or who are themselves immunocompromised, may opt to require masks in their classrooms, Elliott said.
Board Chairman Dawn Robinson pointed out that a dress code may be necessary for students bringing in homemade masks to ensure none of them are “inappropriate for a school setting.”
The district has proposed several scenarios ranging from traditional in-person learning, “which looks very similar to a normal school day,” Elliott said, as well as 100% virtual learning similar to what was done in March at the onset of COVID-19 cases.
The district has color-coded its plans, with green as the traditional in-person learning scenario, red as a forced closure scenario, and yellow being a blended model that includes restrictions to students traffic flow in school and on the bus, as well as at-home learning. The district will allow at-home learning to take place for anyone directly exposed or quarantining due to COVID-19, according to the proposal.
The plan and level of precaution are contingent upon the number of active local cases of COVID-19 in Bradley County.
Traditional in-person learning requires the county to have fewer than 270 active cases of COVID-19, or .25% of the county population. At this level, the fewest restrictions are enforced and school days appear almost normal, Elliott said.
For the blended learning or yellow level plan, precautions will occur so long as cases are between 271 and 1,081, or between .25% and 1% of the local population. At-home learning is still permitted as it is at green level, and students will be on modified classroom schedules.
After-school activities will be limited and administrators will implement “strategic movement in the building” to control the flow and volume of students to avoid widespread contact.
Any more active cases than 1% of Bradley County’s population would require a system shutdown and online-only learning.
Students will be fed at school, but may be restricted to grab-and-go meals that are eaten in the classroom with their “cohort.” Elliott said establishing assigned seating in classrooms, on buses and establishing cohorts will make contact tracing faster and easier in the event of a student being exposed. This system will also limit the number of students an individual is exposed to.
To accommodate at-home learning, the BLADE project will distribute laptops to students third grade and above. Paper packets and instructional videos will be used for K-2 students, with a “strong emphasis” on language arts and mathematics to strengthen core skills. That emphasis comes at the advice of the state, Elliott added.
Cleveland City School's new Virtual School of Cleveland will be offered for those families that need an alternative to the preferred option of a traditional setting with a cap at 300 students. Online registration opens today and will close July 22.
The COVID-19 response task force is still working to establish details for student pickup. Elliott proposed they tweak elementary school times to start at 8:15 a.m. rather than 8:30 a.m. in an attempt to allow more time for parents to pick up students at the end of the day to, once again, limit the volume of students congregating together. Elementary schools will dismiss at 3:15 p.m., Cleveland Middle School will operate from 7:50 am. until 2:50 p.m., and the high school will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Gyms, theaters and other large areas where students may traditionally congregate will be limited, too. Elliott said gym classes and similar courses may take place outside when possible.
Director of Schools Dr. Russell Dyer, and others in administration during the meeting, said the key word for everyone in the school system is “flexibility.”
“It's not perfect. I know it's going to have to change based on new and relevant information that comes in over the next few weeks. And even as we start school, we're going to be getting new information from the CDC and so forth,” Dyer said. “There will be modifications as we go and we'll keep you up to speed, as well as our stakeholders, to make sure everybody knows what's happening as far as this plan goes.”
The district will be posting updates to its plan on social media. A video of the board's regular monthly meeting can be viewed on YouTube.
Parents have been asked to check their email associated with their PowerSchool account for additional information on registration, including the Re-Entry and Reopening Guide, which will be uploaded to clevelandschools.org in the coming days.