Eric Mackey

Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey 

MONTGOMERY — All Alabama schools will reopen for traditional classes this fall, but they'll also offer options for virtual learning for children whose parents aren't comfortable sending them back, the state school superintendent said Friday.

And even as Superintendent Eric Mackey announced plans for restarting the educational system, he warned at a news conference that the road map is subject to change “based on the spread of the virus.”

“This is going to be the most difficult school year we have ever faced,” he said.

Parents and children won't see the exact same thing at any two schools, he said, but things like cleaning procedures and lunchtime will change everywhere.

"Every school is going to look different,” Mackey said.

Dothan City Schools will officially provide its plans to the public in coming weeks after they are submitted to the State and its governing board.

"We have begun on our reopening plans and we are taking this time to make sure our plans are synced with state guidance," Public Information Officer Meagan Dorsey said Friday.

Earlier this summer, the board approved a "Plan B" calendar in which students would start back on Aug. 18. The first approved calendar has an Aug. 6 start date.

Houston County Schools approved their calendar with an Aug. 20 start date, in-line with Mackey's guidance.

A parent’s roadmap from the Alabama State Department of Education has also been developed - here is a link to that guide.

Guarding against the virus could be particularly challenging in classes for the youngest students, where Mackey said current “best practices” call for children to sit close together, often at small tables. While old-fashioned rows of individual desks might enable more social distancing, some schools don’t even have them anymore.

Districts shut down traditional schooling in March on order of the state and many switched to online or virtual learning. A survey showed about 15% of parents still are not comfortable sending their children back to school, he said.

So virtual lessons will be still used, with changes to increase access in places where broadband internet connections are scarce.

Extracurricular activities including football will resume, Mackey said, even though Dr. Scott Harris, the state health officer, said some areas will likely see flare-ups of the virus as people attend activities like sporting events.

"I think that's likely to happen," said Harris.

Alabama is already seeing many more infections. The state has reported more than 33,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and more than 880 people have died. More than a quarter of the cases have been reported in the last two weeks, and health officials are worried by increasing hospital caseloads and a rise in the rate of positive test results.

Infection rates are highest in some rural counties where students travel long distances to reach school and internet service is spotty at best.

Mackey said everyone from coaches to choir teachers are still figuring out how to make it all work. Everything, he said, “will look different."

Dothan City Schools will officially provide its plans to the public in coming weeks after they are submitted to the State and its governing board.

"We have begun on our reopening plans and we are taking this time to make sure our plans are synced with state guidance," Public Information Officer Megan Dorsey said Friday.

Earlier this summer, the board approved a 'Plan B' calendar in which students would start back on Aug. 18. The first approved calendar has an Aug. 6 start date.

Houston County Schools approved their calendar with an Aug. 20 start date, in-line with Mackey's guidance.

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