Dr. Todd Simpson.jpg

Dr. Todd Simpson

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment 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.

What will the return to school look like in Butts County with COVID-19 still making its presence felt? How will it be different?

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).

While Gov. Brian Kemp and the DOE have basically said that reopening schools will be a local decision, the DOE has provided a document, “Georgia’s Path to Recovery for K-12 Schools,” that provides guidance and makes recommendations to help school districts prioritize the health and safety of students and teachers.

It was accompanied by 14-day COVID-19 incidence rates by county data developed by DCH. It is used to rank the spread of the virus per county in three categories:

♦ Low/No Spread

♦ Minimal/Moderate Spread

♦ Substantial Spread

School system superintendents will be get updated reports on the data every week from DCH.

“It is important for parents to understand that this is a very fluid situation and we could easily go from low/no spread to substantial very quickly, especially as we get back into school and it begins to cool off,” Simpson said. “Those are all some of my concerns and we are doing everything we can to plan for that.

“Your return to school is going to look different depending on the level and intensity of community spread within your local community. So how we return to school is going to be based on which of these categories you fall into — low community spread, minimal or moderate, or substantial.”

Using that data and considering other sources as well, Simpson has established a local taskforce made up of himself, local representatives from Butts County government, the Department of Health, the Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Family and Children Services, two representatives of private healthcare providers, and someone from Wellstar Sylvan Grove Hospital. The taskforce conducts a weekly call and gives recommendations to Simpson as to which category of spread the county is in and which education scenario the school system should use.

“What I want people to know is that we’re going to get data from the state, but we’re also going to vet that data locally with the people who take care of our children, take care of our families, and protect us as a community,” Simpson said. “I’m just not going to make that decision in isolation. Together we should be able to keep a really close eye on things.”

Simpson has also 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.

“It is our intention to offer a digital learning alternative for parents for the start of the school year,” Simpson noted. “We’re working on fleshing those details out right now. The reality is that some parents are going to have concerns no matter what the data says, and I understand that. We have some children that have specific medical conditions that make it for them and they will need a different option, and we’ll be prepared to offer that.

“But it is our goal to get everyone back to school everyday and to have school in the traditional fashion. But our knowledge of the disease and its dangers will have to dictate what we do. We remain hopeful that things will continue to get better, but we’ll be prepared for whatever happens.”

Next week: Operations and COVID-19 — Maintenance and facilities, transportation, school nutrition, technology, athletics.

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