The possibility of Polk County students returning to in-person learning this year took another step forward last week with the school board confirming that classes will begin on schedule Aug. 3.
An extensive plan covering nearly every aspect of reopening schools and allowing students to come back to classrooms was unveiled by Superintendent Laurie Atkins at the school board’s July work session.
Detailed in an 18-slide presentation, the “Roadmap Back to PSD” parent guide not only focuses on new rules for students to maintain social distancing, but also includes the new procedures that will be adopted for bus routes, school meals, and instruction.
The full plan is available online at polk.k12.ga.us/News/returningtoschool.
“This has been a long journey to get to this,” Atkins said. “We want to thank our administrators, teachers and parents for being patient with us and helping us develop our plan. All of the guidelines outlined are for the health and safety of our students, teachers and staff.”
The overall plan was developed through consultation with the guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Georgia Department of Education. Atkins said they checked to make sure reopening schools was a possibility before moving forward.
Polk County’s confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 is less than 0.6% of the county’s population, putting the county in a low-spread area in terms of infection. However, Atkins said after talking with Dr. Gary Voccio — the health director for Georgia’s Northwest Health District — it was recommended Polk follow the DOE guidelines for systems in minimal- or moderate-spread areas.
Polk School District will go with the traditional model to start the 2020-2021 school year with school buildings open while implementing more intensive mitigation strategies, such as more frequent cleansing and sanitization of facilities and high-touch surfaces, and enhanced social distancing.
If there is a change in the status of COVID-19 for Polk County the school system will decide then what more actions should be taken or if normal procedures can return.
The plan does include an option for students to take part in distance learning, but a parent or guardian must complete an application and return it to the school system’s central office by Friday, July 17. Distance learning applications can be found on the PSD website.
“We realize this is a quick turnaround, but we need to make sure we have time to prepare before school starts for our teachers and staff,” Atkins said.
She also emphasized that any student who begins the first semester on distance learning cannot return to in-person instruction before the end of the semester.
Wearing face masks will be allowed, although it will not be required, but it is suggested that those who are considered at-risk wear one at all times. Face masks will be allowed before and after school, and any time a student is outside of a classroom. They will not be allowed to be worn during class.
The school board unanimously approved a change to the school system’s dress code at the work session that allows face masks to be worn and holds them to the same standards as other clothing, meaning they cannot be distracting, or have vulgar or profane graphics or language.
Face masks will not be allowed to have any writing on them unless it is related to a school or college.
Sanitation stations will be placed at school entrances, which will be limited to one or two for personnel and students, and hand sanitizer will be provided for each classroom. Bleach wipes or disinfectant spray will be used to clean desktops and tables between classes.
Nonessential visitors and volunteers will be restricted, with any visitors having to remain in the front office area and be buzzed in through security measures that are already in place.
Temperatures will be taken for students and employees exhibiting symptoms, and groups of students will not be allowed to congregate in gyms, hallways or lunchrooms.
As a result, students will spend more time in classrooms and with the same group of students as much as possible, including reporting directly to their homeroom when arriving at school in the morning, eating breakfast and lunch in their classroom, and having K-5 students stay in the same classroom all day.
Also included in the plan is new procedures for buses, with each bus driving two routes each morning and afternoon — one to pick up and drop off K-5 students and another for middle school and high school students.
“We all send up our best thoughts that we don’t have to close schools again,” Atkins said. “We appreciate the understanding we have received from the community and we know that we are all going to have to work together on this.”
She encouraged that anyone with suggestions or questions contact the central office or a school board member. The central office’s number is 770-748-3821.