Plans for returning to school amid the coronavirus pandemic were approved by the Hart County Board of Education Monday night along with a budget that includes four furlough days and a $1.8 million cut.
Hart County schools are set to return to the classroom on Aug. 17 with safety precautions in place, and parents will have the option to choose between in-person instruction or online learning.
The board approved 5-0 at its regular meeting on July 13 a plan for returning to school as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to see an increasing number of cases statewide.
Under the approved plans, the start date for the school year is pushed back from Aug. 5 to Aug. 17.
Parents will be given the option to choose whether to allow their students to return to in-person instruction at school or take classes online via virtual learning.
A decision for which option the parent chooses must be made by July 30, which is the deadline to register for the virtual option. Under the plans, that decision is final and may not be changed until the end of the semester in December.
Superintendent Jay Floyd said the school system has increased sanitation measures, including providing classrooms with “care packages” that could include hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, among other items.
A list of prevention measures was also provided which included teaching and reinforcing good hygiene measures such as handwashing, covering coughs and face coverings. Masks and other appropriate personal protective equipment are to be provided to staff.
“An ideal situation would be that a student recognizes ‘I want to be safe’ so the first thing I do is come into the class and I use a Clorox wipe ... and I clean my desktop off,” Floyd said. “...We want to make sure that whatever the students feel comfortable with and their comfort level and what they want to do, that they have the ability to do that.”
Face coverings or masks are not required, but are recommended for students and staff, especially in circumstances where it is difficult to practice social distancing.
Visitors are to have their temperatures checked for fever when entering a school building, Floyd said, and will not be allowed to go beyond the front office vestibules.
A decision matrix crafted by the state Department of Education and the Department of Public Health offers guidance for how to handle potential COVID-19 cases at the schools. For instance, if a student or staff member is diagnosed with COVID-19, symptoms or not, the school can choose to have a targeted closure where an affected area would be closed off and deep cleaned, enact a short-term closure facility-wide for cleaning or institute a long-term closure.
Under the decision matrix, if a student or staff member is confirmed to have the virus and has no symptoms, they could return to school or work after at least 10 days have passed since the positive test and the person remains asymptomatic.
If a student or staff member is diagnosed with the virus and has symptoms, they can return to the school after at least three days have passed since their recovery and at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared. Recovery is defined as a resolution of fever without fever reducing medicine and improvement with respiratory symptoms.
Logs are to be kept of students who are sick and reported to the DPH for contact tracing, Floyd said.
New teacher orientation is now scheduled for Aug. 3 and Aug. 4. Pre-planning is set for eight days from Aug. 5 to Aug. 14.
Four days will be added to the end of school year and the last day of school for students will be June 4, 2021.
Associate superintendent Jennifer Carter and assistant superintendent David Buddenbaum explained how the virtual learning will work and said it will not be the same as the virtual learning that took place in the spring during pandemic-prompted closures.
Speaking about grades kindergarten through fifth grade, Carter said expectations for participation, attendance and work completion will be similar to the district’s in-person option.
Participation grades will not be given to students, Carter said, and grades will reflect academic performance. Assessments, such as chapter and unit tests, quizzes and MAP benchmarks, may be completed after regular school hours and on school campuses. In such cases, social distancing guidelines will be practiced, and parents will wait outside school buildings for their students, Carter said.
For grades sixth through 12th, Buddenbaum said students will attend scheduled classes via Google Meet and attendance will be taken. Students will be able to view the entire classroom and the board through the EduCam 360 devices previously installed in the classrooms.
To register for the virtual school option, visit www.hart.k12.ga.us and complete the provided registration form.
Specific details regarding school start-up, including open house dates for all schools, will be released in the coming weeks, the school system said.
To view the full guidelines and plans, visit The Hartwell Sun’s website at www.thehartwellsun.com.
The board also unanimously approved the tentative fiscal year 2021 budget at Monday’s meeting.
The state General Assembly originally told school systems to plan for a 14 percent budget cut in the face of dwindling tax revenues brought on by pandemic-caused closures, but then asked for systems to cut their budgets by 10 percent, which results in a $1.8 million reduction for Hart County.
“It makes it difficult that we’re in a year that we’re trying to fight a virus. We’ve got to have all this additional funding. Who’s buying the PPE, expending all this money on additional stuff that we’ve got to get. And our budget has been cut down to the bone. That makes it very difficult,” Floyd said.
An added difficulty, Floyd said, is trying to socially distance when there may be more students per class now because they’ve “cut more positions than they ever have.” He said the system nixed $722,000 worth of salaries to meet the state-ordered cuts.
In other business:
• The board unanimously approved several board policy revisions, approved new policies and approved rescinding several policies.
• Director of operations David Seagraves gave the facilities report and said Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax collections for the month of June totalled $346,479.95.