Editor’s note: Catoosa County Schools Superintendent Denia Reese posted the following message on Monday, July 27, 2020

Since I published our plan to open school last week, I’ve heard from people who agreed with the plan — and those who didn’t. I’d like to begin this update with a point where I think we all agree — we want to open school in August and keep our children in school ALL year! In order to accomplish this goal, I feel it is necessary to adjust the previous plan.

Students in digital and in-person learning will begin on August 24.

Elementary school students (K-5) will go to school 5 days a week.

Pre-K, middle, and high school students will begin on a hybrid schedule, attending Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday.

The school calendar will remain the same. The only change is the first day of school.

Why is the system opening Pre-K, middle, and high school on a hybrid schedule?

SOCIAL DISTANCING: The PRIMARY decision factor is the ability to social distance in classrooms and common areas. Fewer secondary students than expected enrolled in digital learning, making social distancing impossible. Class sizes and common area occupancy can only be reduced by allowing half the students in the school two days a week.

The Pre-K program is managed by Bright from the Start. While the school system can utilize auxiliary elementary school teachers to lower class sizes in other grades, we must follow specific guidelines with our Pre-K program.

With our numbers, social distancing in the Pre-K program can only be met through a hybrid schedule.

Student and employee health and safety: Even following GHSA guidelines for practices, since schools have resumed sports and extracurricular summer activities, student athletes and coaches have tested positive for COVID-19. It is imperative that social distancing be maintained when we return to school to keep students and employees healthy.

When will I learn if my child/children will attend school on Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday?

Middle and high schools will work together to coordinate schedules so siblings attend on the same days of the week if possible. The school will notify parents by August 3rd.

Can I change the enrollment option I chose for my child/children? The deadline to enroll in online learning has been extended to July 31. If you would like for your child/children to attend in-person instruction in the revised plan, please contact your principal.

Why is the system delaying the beginning of school?

Additional safety measures: Automated body temperature scanners are being installed on multiple entrances at each school, and thermometers are being purchased for teachers. If a student has a temperature over 100.4, they will be sent home immediately.

New digital learning platform for elementary school: Due to a large number of elementary school students enrolling in distance learning, the system is purchasing a digital learning platform and training teachers. SchoolsPLP will ensure that students participating in distance learning will have academic rigor, self-paced lessons, and it provides a more flexible schedule for parents.

Additional classrooms in elementary schools: To reduce class sizes in elementary school, most staff will have homerooms. Classrooms must be set up for auxiliary staff to lower class sizes so social distancing is possible.

Preparing schedules: Middle and high schools must prepare hybrid schedules for the first semester of school

Staffing: Forty-three percent of our employees are over 50, and a number have underlying health issues that increase the risk of contracting COVID-19. Medical requests must be reviewed to assign staff to appropriate working environments.

I want our students and parents to know this is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make! No one wants to open in full traditional instruction more than I do; however, with the number of students remaining in middle and high school after enrollment for digital learning closed, I believe the only way we can open our secondary schools safely is in a hybrid model for the first semester.

I know students are less likely to contract the virus or to have serious symptoms from COVID, but I must take precautions to keep our teachers and staff healthy. Catoosa County is doing a good job mitigating the spread of COVID in our county; however, an outbreak in a school could escalate our numbers quickly.

Families of 10,500 students and 1,700 employees are counting on the school system to open school safely. With smaller class sizes, social distancing in common areas, new body temperature scanners, additional cleaning technicians, advanced cleaning and sanitizing protocols, frequent hand washing, and masks when we can’t social distance, we are taking our responsibility to maintain student and employee health seriously, so Catoosa County Public Schools can remain open for the 2020-2021 school year.

As I said in the beginning of this update, I know some people will not agree with this decision, but I believe we all agree that we want our schools to stay open for our children all year. Whether you agree or disagree, I’m asking you to trust that I made this decision because I believe it is best for our children, our employees, and our community.

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