In a virtual town hall event for Marietta High School students and families Tuesday night, Principal Keith Ball outlined coronavirus mitigation strategies for the school year, including mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing when possible, providing hand sanitizer and implementing additional cleaning services.
Ball, Associate Principal Jason Meade, Athletic Director Craig McKinney and Superintendent Grant Rivera, spent an hour answering questions about the school year over a Zoom meeting.
“Every teacher, every student, every employee is going to be required to wear a mask, and then we will also have masks available for people, both on staff and for students, if they forget it,” Ball said. “Besides the face masks, you’ve got hand sanitizer that will be all over the school, social distancing when possible.”
Other mitigation factors include the use of clear partitions and face shields, the cleaning of high-touch areas and the use of two separate cafeterias during lunchtime, Ball said. The school will use the seminar room as the second cafeteria for the fall.
“We’re going to use two indoor cafeterias,” Ball said. “Instead of having six or seven serving lines, we will only have three, which will allow them to spread out. We will also give an option for outside eating.”
Other schools in the district, like Hickory Hills Elementary School, will have lunch in classrooms. Ball said that would be difficult at Marietta High School because the campus is too large to deliver meals to classrooms and because eating is prohibited in many rooms like science and computer labs. The school will also bar the use of vending machines and traditional water fountains.
Ball said the school will not issue lockers to students this fall, and students will not be allowed to use elevators unless required for medical reasons.
To limit the number of students in hallways, classes will only allow one student to leave the room at a time. Between classes, students will be allowed to walk outside, “which will decrease the amount of kids in the hallway and spread them out,” Ball said.
The school will have three points of student entrance. Bus riders will enter through a bus entrance. Car riders will be dropped off in front of the J Hall and then enter the school building through the upper A. Drivers will enter through the main entrance. All students will have a temperature scan before entering the school. The school will have regular temperature checks for students and staff.
Ball said the school has built two COVID-19 isolation rooms to provide a space to treat and isolate students with symptoms of the viral disease. Students who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 will be isolated until they can be picked up from the school. Ball said the isolation rooms will prevent the nurse’s office from becoming a COVID-19 treatment location.
Rivera said Cobb-Douglas Public Health will dedicate a contact tracer to Marietta High School. When a student or staff member tests positive, the contact tracer will ask who was within 6 feet of the infected person for at least 15 minutes. Those who had contact with an infected person within 48 hours of the positive test will self-isolate for an undetermined amount of time.
“There will be a protocol for anyone who was within that 6-feet, 15-minute bubble for someone who tests positive,” Rivera said. “I’m expecting some updated guidance about, ‘Is it 14 days? Is it 10 days?’”
Rivera said the district will update its protocols as it receives updated guidance from public health officials.
If a teacher tests positive and must self-isolate for at least two weeks, the school will either hire a temporary substitute teacher or have teachers share classes. Ball compared a long-term teacher absence to medical leave or maternity leave.
“Leave for an extended period of time is pretty much part of what we deal with,” Ball said. “Specific to COVID, we know that it’s going to be a minimum of two weeks.”
Meade outlined plans for virtual instruction, noting the school will offer multiple platforms, including Edgenuity and Schoology, for students to participate in remote learning. The school will not offer online PE classes.
Meade said students should plan to commit to their selected schooling method, either in-person or online, for the entirety of the fall semester. If students participating in in-person learning contract COVID-19, they will use Schoology to complete their coursework remotely until they recover and test negative for the virus.
McKinney said students who participate in virtual schooling will be eligible to participate in athletics or other extracurricular activities. Marietta High School’s three athletic trainers will enforce safety and sanitation guidelines for athletic teams. McKinney has not yet received guidelines about limiting crowd sizes at athletic events, but he expects to have that information from the Georgia High School Association soon.
“I fully anticipate we will be getting guidelines from the GHSA that they will try to ensure across the state, because all of the high school athletic competitions where you have large crowds are governed by the GHSA.”
McKinney said the GHSA softball director recommended that fans follow social distancing guidelines in the stands. The athletic director said he will release Marietta’s written plan for crowd sizes by next Friday, July 17.
“The Georgia High School Association is very, very interested in trying to make sure that everybody continues to be able to participate, and we are very interested in making sure that everybody is as safe as possible,” McKinney said.
For the full, hourlong virtual meeting, visit the Marietta City Schools Vimeo page at vimeo.com/mariettacityschools.