Message from Baldwin County Public Schools Superintendent Eddie Tyler shared on July 23, 2020:
I hope you are enjoying the last few weeks of summer as we approach the return to school on August 12th.
Once again, I bring to you a novel of information. I hope these long, intensive, deep dives into our plans and my thinking has been helpful and comforting to you as you deal with such a challenging decision for your family. I’ve done so much writing that I’ve thought about exploring a publisher for a new career as an author - HA!
That’s about as much humor as I have for now because this is my last update until our teachers return to school on August 3rd. What we have to talk about here is serious, and to many, it is life-threatening so I hope you will not mistake my tone for anything other than deliberate and serious. Let’s get onto the next five pages.
There have been many rumors concerning speculation that we may delay or cancel the opening of school. I can assure you that is not happening. I have spoken with board members and principals on a daily basis and there are no discussions about a delay. I can also assure you that if one is going to happen, I will let you know immediately by rapid notification. While I detest rumors, I cannot stop them but I hope you know I will inform you immediately and thoroughly if that is even being considered.
Folks, we truly believe the reopening of school is critical during the COVID-19 pandemic when many children and families are experiencing additional economic hardships, social isolation, and stressors. We have heard from national and local pediatric groups, health officials, educational experts and thousands of parents who tell us that kids need to be back in school. Our charge is to do this safely, balancing those needs carefully, but dutifully, to ensure those who are dependent on us will be served.
Let’s review what we have already put in place.
- If you are concerned or have anxiety about your child’s health, pre-existing conditions, other at-risk family members or you don’t want your child in school – we are providing you with an excellent virtual school option.
- We are directing our instructional staff and administrators to implement as much social distancing as possible in our traditional schools.
- As space can be limited in our facilities as well as in an instructional environment, we are taking additional steps.
- Masks will be worn at all times.
- Hand sanitizing and washing will be directed frequently.
- All buildings & equipment will be disinfected with a hospital-grade product daily.
I have received some emails asking us to close school. It hasn’t been nearly as many as those who support and encourage us to open but they’ve come and we’ve read them. If a parent thinks we should close school, then they should enroll in virtual school. It is the same option as closing school whereby your child will be at home and their educational needs will be provided virtually with minimal contact from others.
I’ve had parents tell me they can’t do virtual school because they work, but yet want us to close the schools. I’m at a loss. If you do virtual school, your child comes home and learns in a virtual environment. If we close school, your child comes home and learns in a virtual environment.
Let’s talk about our partnership together with you.
You’ve likely heard the old saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. We are all linked here in one big chain I like to call our school family. So, parents, I need you to know your responsibilities, ethically and morally. If you have a sick child at home, please, please DO NOT send them to school. In addition to any sick leave you have with your employer, and family leave provided under the Federal Family Medical Leave Act, the Federal government has now provided every employee in the United States 80 hours of guaranteed additional sick leave to care for yourself or family members who are suffering from the symptoms of COVID-19.
If someone in your household is suffering from a diagnosed case of COVID-19, or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, the doctor will direct you and your family to quarantine for up to 14 days and until you have been three days without symptoms. So, if you, your child or someone in your household is sick with COVID, PLEASE DO NOT SEND YOUR CHILD TO SCHOOL.
What if your student can’t come to school? They will continue to learn in our new distance learning program. We made the decision earlier this summer to invest significantly in new distance learning software. This is not the distance learning of last year. This is also not Virtual School. Virtual School is what you enroll in now for your child to have a yearlong virtual school experience away from the classroom. Distance learning is what we provide if we have to close school or send a child home sick. Time has given us the ability to develop a much more comprehensive, digital instruction and assessment program that will be tracking along the same pacing guide your student is learning from in their classrooms.
All of our classes in traditional school are being tracked digitally with your child. Our teachers and administrators are being required to complete significant professional development before starting school. This ensures they are up to speed on all of our new digital requirements for distance learning. We are prepared to switch our traditional students immediately to distance learning as a whole system, as an individual school or on a student by student basis as a result of sickness. All of their work, assignments, lessons and studies are posted and will be available digitally on Google Classroom each day. As of the first day of school, we are prepared make this move at any moment and without further preparation.
Parents, we have the “at home” academics covered and you have plenty of federally guaranteed sick leave. There is no reason to send your sick child to school so PLEASE do not give your child Tylenol and hope that we will not check their temperature.
PARENTS - Before your child leaves for school you should check their temperature, ask them if they have felt ill and make certain they have a mask and do not send them to school if they or someone in their house is diagnosed with or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
To those parents choosing traditional school - we are going to have a lot of sick children, we always do. Throughout a typical school year, we can see as much as 50% of our students out with flu, strep and other illnesses. This year we have a new challenge - deciphering which is which.
We will not be requiring a negative test to start back at school on August 12th. The CDC does not currently recommend universal testing to admit students or staff into school. Viral testing only determines infection at the point in time the test occurs and may miss cases in the early stages of infection.
Once we start school, if a child is sick, we will send the child to the nurse. From there, we will process the child quickly to identify if they are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 which include: new onset cough or shortness of breath by themselves OR at least 2 of the following: fever (100.4ºF or higher), chills, muscle pain, sore throat, loss of sense of smell or taste, and gastrointestinal symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting or nausea. If they are, then the child will be sent to a wellness area isolated from others while we notify their parents for immediate dismissal as being suspected of having COVID-19. The student’s absences will be excused and they will be able to continue to their academic work from home, digitally, under our distance learning plan as outlined above.
Those sent home as being suspected of having COVID-19 will not be allowed back in school until they:
- Present a signed doctor’s note clearing them to return to school
- Present a negative COVID-19 test result
- Remain away from school for 14 days AND have been clear of fever for at least three days without medication AND improvement of other symptoms
If students are sick but do not qualify under the COVID-19 symptom checklist, they will be processed as we have previously for any sick child. Note that we have amended our wellness policy for this school year to require additional time at home before returning to school for ALL sick students. Students who have been out sick or have been sent home will not be allowed back to school until they have had no fever for at least three days without medication AND improvement of other symptoms.
If the school is notified that a student or employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19, all student absences will be excused, they will be provided ample academic make-up time, but they will be prohibited from returning to school until they have:
- Presented a signed doctor’s note clearing them to return to school
- Presented a negative COVID-19 test result
- Remained away from school for 14 days AND have been clear of fever for at least three days without medication AND improvement of other symptoms
What do we do if an employee or student has been in contact with another student who has been suspected of or diagnosed with COVID-19? I have been fully transparent with you and I commit that we are going to continue that transparency. We will notify you daily as we get this information on positive COVID-19 tests in our schools. I’m sure you will understand that we will not be able to give out the name, personal or identifiable information about the person(s) who have been diagnosed. Parents, please note the test results generally come days after the test is given and the test isn’t given until symptoms are present, which can be days after first contracted. As a result, when we notify you that your child may have come in contact with someone, that contact will have happened days or even a week prior to us receiving notification.
We expect employees and students will continue to come to school even after being notified that they may have been in contact with a symptomatic person while at school. Why? Because we are all coming in contact with the virus each day we are outside our homes but we may not know about it. Because we are already treating our school facilities and operations with the highest level of preparedness expecting this to take place. Because schools are designated as essential by Homeland Security, it is expected that following an exposure, we should “continue operations while ensuring that everyone remains symptom free and additional precautions are taken in order to ensure continuity of essential operations and functions.” Knowing our reality, we have already directed that we will be requiring the highest level of precautions, while also constantly monitoring for symptoms every day.
So, let’s review.
1. Sick employees and students will be sent home and cannot return until fever free and symptom free for three days after being sent home or held out.
2. Students and employees who are suspected of having COVID-19 as a result of symptoms being presented will not be allowed back until they:
a. Present a signed doctor’s note clearing them to return to school
b. Present a negative COVID-19 test result
c. Remain away from school for 14 days AND have been clear of fever for at least three days without medication AND improvement of other symptoms
3. When we are notified of a positive test result or a diagnosed child or employee having been on campus, we will notify parents and employees at the school on a daily basis.
So, are we going to have sick kids come to school? Yes. Do we have a plan to process them? Yes. Do we have a plan to keep them out? Yes. Could a parent try to fool us and send a child to school with fever reducing medicine? Yes. Will there be sick children at school who show no symptoms being “asymptomatic”? Yes.
Remember that first discussion where I told you that your child is going to come in contact with the coronavirus should you choose to send them to traditional school. This is why I’ve been telling you this. This is why we are providing you with an excellent virtual school option. This is also why we are going far and beyond in our new safety protocols to disinfect our facilities with hospital grade sanitizers every night and direct frequent hand washing and sanitizing, implementing social distancing where possible and requiring masks or suitable alternatives because we realize the limitations of social distancing in our academic settings.
Let’s talk about our instructional staff. Folks, I am honored to work alongside the best and most dedicated employees in any school system in the world. These colleagues have labored to make sure they can provide for your children and we have received hundreds of emails and messages about how important it is for them and your children to return to a classroom setting.
Yes, there are teachers who are not excited and are even opposed to us returning to school. We respect their opinion but schools are designated as an essential industry by Homeland Security and we believe the reopening of school is critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many children and families are experiencing additional economic hardships, social isolation, and stressors. To date, we have received about 60 retirements and our HR department is working with an equal amount to provide accommodations for qualified reasons.
Some teachers have specific medical conditions, or situations which place them or family members at high-risk. Some teachers are just fearful, anxious and worried. They are just like us, just like you and just like me. They don’t know what to expect in all of this. As a 45-year employee in the public school system, you can guess correctly that I am in the higher risk categories. I empathize with their concerns but I also realize the reality of this virus, the steps we are taking to protect everyone and the need for us to do our jobs.
Concerned teachers and employees should be in touch with their principals and our HR department if they have concerns but fear and worry is not a reason to be out of work. Millions of people go to work in offices and retail environments every day and some with less precautions than we are providing.
Make no mistake - I am so proud of our employees and what they have done to be ready. As our teachers return to school, we will provide additional support beyond what we have provided in the past. We are providing them details on expectations, protocols and procedures to make sure they are prepared. I expect, and I know, they will do their best.
Should a teacher, staff member or nurse fall sick and be absent from school we have identified over 1,500 active substitutes currently on our roster. We have also been hiring additional teachers throughout the summer and have just recently opened additional positions to ensure we are well supplied with more excellent teachers to join our already excellent team of instructors.
Are there chances that we may not have enough? Of course, but we’ve been here. We’ve had flu outbreaks and holiday breaks where we didn’t have enough substitute coverage. We have plans at each school level to deal with that and our experience shows we can handle these adjustments. In my 45 years, you can’t imagine what I’ve dealt with and I know my colleagues will tell you the same.
What if this doesn’t work? That’s possible and we have a plan to close schools. I’m not going to get into the color of our plans and how or when they might be implemented but by now you should be confident that we have considered nearly every possibility.
We have a plan to close on a ‘school by school’ basis as needed or system wide. We can close for a few days to allow for a deeper clean or to allow a hot spot to diminish. We can close by order of a higher government official or because we are convinced that such is in the best interest of our employees, students and our community. We will not make this decision lightly. We respect the situation of our families and the necessity of schools to continue to deliver on the dependency we have to everyone else in our area. It will be made after consultation with medical, health and government officials and for something much greater than what we are facing today.
That’s it, folks. If you made it this far, then you have reached the end of the internet as they say.
I do not expect that you will hear from me again until August but remember, do not listen to rumors. Please know that if there is even the possibility that we will delay the opening of school or move to distance learning – I will let you know immediately and with great detail.
If you have questions, please visit our coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions section at www.BCBE.org/coronavirus. Now that we are approaching the start of school, please be in touch with your principal with any concerns you may have. You should be receiving information over the next two weeks about open house events, return to school, school supplies and other back to school information.
As always thank you for trusting us with your children. I will be back with additional details the first week in August.