The Henry County School System has a solid idea about what it wants to do when the school year begins later this month, but it’s still a very fluid situation based on the coronavirus pandemic.
Leah Watkins, county director of schools, told the Board of Education Thursday that there’s been a decrease in the number of new COVID-19 cases in the county in the latter part of this week, with only four new cases being reported each of the last two days prior to the meeting.
“We want our students to return to in-person classes, and we’re doing a great job as a community in trying to get the case numbers down, but a lot can change,” she said, stressing the fact that current plans all can hinge on which way the numbers go the next few days or weeks.
County schools are set to begin Aug. 31. Watkins said the system is aiming to start in the so-called “yellow phase” plan, with a mix of in-school and virtual home learning.
As of Thursday, 19% of students at Lakewood School had opted for virtual learning, 17% at Henry School, 16% at Harrelson School, 3% at Grove School and less than 1% at Henry County High School.
With many students staying home for online learning, that would enable the schools in the system to cut down the class sizes for the in-person students. Watkins said the goal is to have an average class size of 12-16 students so that proper social distancing could occur.
“I feel very good about that, if we can have those class sizes, we would be able to offer in-person instruction starting August 31,” she said.
She and her administration officials have come up with a plan for the high school and for Grove, which will present bigger challenges on class size because more students would be in person at school and because students that age tend to be very social and want to gather in groups.
That plan — again based on how the COVID numbers progress — would follow what Watkins called an “A-B schedule.” Students would be split into two groups at those two schools, with each group attending school in person for two days a week, doing one day of entirely virtual learning, and two days of “flipped” learning, or non-traditional instruction like watching videos or other activities.
“This would at least let us get kids on campus for two days a week,” she said. “And high school kids are much more capable of being at home and in charge of their own work (than the younger students).
She also stated facemasks will need to be worn in school buildings, based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The system is likely going to set up Aug. 24, 25 and 26 as onsite safety training days for students.
One-third of the students at each school in the system would come to school on each of those three days. They’ll be shown how to use the hand sanitizers, when they will be able to put on and take off their masks, how to access Google Classroom, get to know their teachers a bit, and see where the cafeteria locations will be, since there will be two cafeteria spots in each school to help separate students.
Despite the delay in the start of the school year, Watkins said very little change is going to be needed in the system’s 2020-21 calendar, though she expects graduation and the end of the school year will be pushed forward by a week.