Editor’s Note: This is the second segment of a five-part series dealing with how the Butts County School System is preparing for a new school year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
How is the Butts County School System preparing its buildings, buses, technology, and nutritional program for students this fall with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?
Butts County School Superintendent Dr. Todd Simpson and his staff are busy developing answers to those questions and more, with guidance from the Georgia Department of Education (DOE) and the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH).
Simpson has divided his department heads and principals into four teams — Operations, Teaching and Learning, Student Services, and Staffing. They are meeting weekly to work on plans for three different scenarios based on the spread of COVID-19 in the community:
♦ Traditional Education — Students learning in school buildings.
♦ Hybrid Education — Reducing the number of students at school each day by offering remote learning as an option, and possibly alternating schedules for students, so not all students are in school on the same day.
♦ Remote Education — School buildings closed and students remaining at home, as they did for the last few months of the 2019-2020 school year.
Simpson said the purpose of the Operations team is to study recommendations from the Department of Education and Department of Public Health and try to determine what that local implementation. The team consists of Dr. Darrell Evans, Assistant Superintendent for Operations; Chris Thurston, Director of Maintenance; Lamar Smith, Transportation Director; Nicole James, School Nutrition Program Director; Walt Dundore, Director of Technology; and Shannon Daniel, Stark Elementary School Principal.
Following is a brief summary of what each team member and their staff are working on:
Thurston said his staff has gone through every building in the school system and changed out all the filters.
“We’ve also cleaned all the cooling towers that operate the heat pumps for the three elementary schools and the middle school,” he said, and we’ve gone through the buildings and sanitized the surfaces students might touch in each of them.”
Simpson added that the cleaning process will be done again before school opens, and that they have the option of having a company come in and spray a disinfectant fog in the buildings if necessary.
“If we have incidents where there are positive cases in the building or we feel like our level of cleanliness is a concern, then we’ll have those people standing by and ready to come in and do even more extensive cleaning and disinfecting,” Simpson said.
Teachers and other school staff will play a major role in keeping the schools virus-free.
“For those surfaces that students are going to touch or come in contact with, we’ll have to wipe those down between classes,” Simpson said.
Daniel added that on the elementary and middle school level, they are considering leaving students in the same classrooms all day.
“What we’re talking about doing is instead of students changing classes during the school day, the teachers will change classes,” she said. “It will maximize instructional time and also be quicker and safer for the teacher to cross versus the students.”
Lamar Smith stated that the school system has purchased a fogging system that can be used to fog the buses to kill the virus. He said the buses will be fogged at least once a week and possibly every day.
“Also, the drivers all will have disinfectant spray bottles and will be required to disinfect the seats and the hand rails and doors inbetween each route,” Smith said.
Social distancing on the buses is the biggest headache for the transportation department.
“You only have 24 seats on a bus, and if we do that with one student every other seat, you only have 12 students on a bus,” Smith projected. “Based on the number of kids we transport, we’d be transporting kids all day long.”
Smith said they are also developing procedures to keep students apart getting onto and off the buses.
“We will have procedures in place where students get onto the bus and go to the back, and fill from the back to the front so that we don’t have the contact in the bus,” Smith said.
“When we unload at the schools, we will unload front to back with the social distancing in place.”
Another option is to encourage parents to try to transport their children, rather than putting them on a bus.
Nicole James said they are looking at what will be needed to keep her staff and the children safe while they eat breakfast and lunch at school.
“If we go into back into the schools, we’ve talked about how we can cut down the number of students in the cafeteria,” James said. “In the elementary and middle schools, we’ve talked about going to a prepackaged meal that the students would be able to choose, and then we would have folks who would deliver the meals to the classrooms, so that students would not be coming into the cafeteria. That would reduce the risk to the students and the staff.
“High school is a little different, as they would still be coming into the cafeteria. There servers would be putting everything on the plates, and we would have servers in place to keep multiple people from touching the plates. Then they would either have social distancing in the cafeteria as they eat, or going back to their classrooms to eat.”
James added that if the school system had to switch back to remote learning with students staying at home, that they will continue the bus delivery program that started this past spring and proved to be successful in delivering pre-packaged breakfasts and lunches to students.
Walt Dundore said in the classrooms, they will practice social distancing and sanitize keyboards after each class. If a student takes a device home to use, when it comes back they will sanitize it at that point.
The bigger problem will be if students have to work from home and the areas of Butts County that are without internet service.
This past spring, the school system deployed 10 buses equipped with wifi devices to areas of the county with poor service.
“We identified locations throughout the county where we could park the buses and serve a radius of the area like a house, where someone could pull up next to the bus and connect on wifi,” Simpson said. “Students and parents could pull up to a site, download lessons or upload work, and then return home.”
But even that had limited success because for the wifi devices to work, there needed to be a cellular signal in the area for the wifi to connect to, and there are some areas of the county that have no cellular service at all.
Butts County hopes to alleviate that problem even further after receiving eight more wifi devices from AT&T through the Georgia Department of Education. The 10 units the county purchases are on Verizon, and the eight that were donated are on AT&T. Simpson said the school system will be studying where to best put all the wifi devices to provide the most service to students and parents.
“We have parts of our county where AT&T works very well, but Verizon doesn’t, and vice versa,” Simpson said. “So this does give us some capabilities to have devices that are serviced by two different providers.”
Next week: Teaching and Learning