Tri-City Ledger -

By Gretchen McPherson
Ledger Staff 

Schools are set to open Aug. 7

School system working on virus guidelines


July 2, 2020

Escambia County (Ala.) School Superintendent John Knott said Tuesday in a special meeting that public schools will start Friday, Aug. 7, following State Superintendent Eric Mackey's announcement that it is up to each school system to plan how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

As both state education and health departments continue to implement guidelines and recommended protocols and practices, Knott said school personnel and administration across the county are working together on plans for reopening the schools.

"We've allowed the athletes and students involved in extra curricular activities back to schools with very clear guidelines and protocols to follow to provide the safest atmosphere," said Knott. "Only grades seven and up, mainly because these age students are more mature and can follow protocols and directions easier than the younger students and to give time to see how the levels of threat for this particular area pan out."

Knott said any students who need standards based recovery or credit recovery in the summer programs will be the next to return, with specific guidelines in place.

"In July, younger students will return, with strict guidelines, while we will be constantly measuring threats levels to make sure safety is maintained," Knott said.

Knott emphasized how important summer programs are for the upcoming students and cited the abbreviated jumpstart programs in place this year.

"It is important that we maintain that program to prepare our students who are incoming into kindergarten, like we have in the past," he said. "Also, summer reading and math camps are essential, with protocols. I can't emphasize that enough. We've got very limited numbers of students per classroom, and we are constantly monitoring students and staff for any potential health concerns, implementing protocols to handle that, and provide for those things."

Knott said he has been working with state health and education departments from the beginning of the pandemic, pointing out the plan is only for guidance and considerations for the Local Education Agency (LEA) as it develops back-to-school plans, but noted that it is not mandated.

Knott gave board members a paper copy of, 'Alabama Roadmap to Reopening Schools,' developed by the state education department, outlining the issues and concerns.

"It is full of very good guidance, good guidelines to follow, and gives us a toolbox to help us develop our own individual plan," he said.

Board members asked about the possibility of remote learning, absenteeism versus virtual learning and the guidelines for determining the numbers, remote instruction in the case of an outbreak and expressed other concerns.

Knott will present plan to board and get board members' input, then make any revisions before the plan is released.

Board member Cindy Jackson asked if they are considering remote learning, traditional classroom learning, or a blend of the two for this school year.

"It is up to my office and our local schools to work together to provide a framework and a plan of what we can actually do," said Knott. "We don't want to put a burden on the teachers in our classrooms, where the rubber meets the road. We want both administrative and teacher input. This is going to be a hard year."

Knott said one major problem with remote learning is the lack of internet connection in rural parts of the county.

"Internet conductivity is a major problem in this county. Even in close areas outside the city limits, there are major hurdles," he said. "We are considering the best remote learning format, which won't happen for a few more weeks. We are working on how we are going to provide professional development and instruction and how to get teachers to implement those things."

Technology Coordinator Jamie Burkett told board members that Google Classroom and a new format, Schoology, are popular, but present problems when considering remote learning. Burkett said they are looking at every avenue to be able to offer remote learning, but it is a work in progress.

Board member Coleman Wallace asked about funding for possible connectivity in rural areas.

Knott said Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday that she initiated a task force to look into using money to try to provide connectivity in those remote areas.

"We are looking at offering Wi-Fi remotely in our buses and identifying areas that can provide internet access and other resources to help, such as libraries or community centers," said Knott. "There is going to be no perfect plan. It's a very big problem, especially in our area."

Knott said the virtual option, to start with, will have to be available to students who have full internet access, and that one possibility would be extending the parameters of the schools' Wi-Fi.

"That way, students could upload content, go home, do the work, come back, and download, which is ideal," he said. "Other than everyone having access to Wi-Fi across the county, we are going to have to address everybody's need a little differently. They're not going to be able to function without that connectivity. If they are out of school for any time, to be able to provide on going learning remotely.

The health plan is about to expire, and that will guide what we will do. That's a legal document we have to comply with."

Knott reiterated that the school's plan will be a plan of action that will be flexible according to whatever particular level of threat there is.

"The higher level of threat for our area, the more protocols and provisions and safety measures we are going to have to get into place," said Knott.

Knott said he is meeting with school transportation next week to try to come up with guidelines, but there is no way the school system can implement Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines on buses.

He said there will be signs for teachers to look for in children, and then, if the child has those signs, they go to the school nurse.

"Parents are the first line of defense at home," said Knott. "We are going to ask them to check these different boxes off (a checklist)."

Knott told board members that drafts will be provided to them.

"I want to make sure the public understands the gravity of the planning that has to be done to try to address these areas and then provide for the instruction of these kids."

In other business, the board:

-Approved of FY2020 budget amendment #1

-Approved to apply for an Alabama State Department of Education grant of about $40,000 for the Mental Health Service Coordinator (MHSC) Pilot Program, to develop, sustain, and/or facilitate a comprehensive prevention and intervention program for students Kindergarten through 12th grade.

-Approved the following recommended personnel changes:

Leave of absence

Shirley Longmire, 7-hour lunchroom worker at Rachel Patterson Elementary School, effective January 7, 2020 through March 18, 2020; Tonya Howard, worker for CNP Summer Meal Program at Flomaton High School, effective June 19, 2020 and Sarah Watkins, Federal Programs Supervisor/System Test Coordinator at Atmore Central Office, effective June 30, 2020


Alice Stewart, registered nurse at Escambia County Middle School, to registered nurse at Pollard McCall Junior High School, effective Aug. 3, 2020


Amanda Chavers, instructional teacher aide at Pollard McCall Junior High School, effective Aug. 3, 2020 (replacing Vickie Stamper); Tonya Ragan, counselor at W.S. Neal Elementary School, effective Aug. 3, 2020 (replacing Beverly Wilson); James Free, social studies teacher at W.S. Neal High School, effective Aug. 3, 2020 (replacing Clifford Matthews); Kristie Lambeth, bus driver at Brewton Bus Stop, effective Aug. 5, 2020 (replacing Latisha Hall); Jennifer Bullock, custodian for Title I Jumpstart Program at W.S. Neal Elementary School, effective July 6, 2020; James Hayles, summer maintenance custodian at Rachel Patterson Elementary School, effective June 15, 2020; Haley Black, summer maintenance custodian at Escambia Career Readiness Center, effective June 22, 2020; Walker Hoomes, students summer worker at Escambia Career Readiness Center, effective June 22, 2020 and Cassidy Lanier, college student worker at Brewton Central Office, effective June 29, 2020

Employment change

Cimmaron Wilson, instructional teacher aide at W.S. Neal Elementary School to office aide at W.S. Neal Elementary School, effective Aug. 3, 2020 (replacing Misty Joyner) and Melvin Byrd, bus driver at Atmore Bus Stop to special needs bus driver at Atmore Bus Stop, effective Aug. 5, 2020 (replacing Jean Searcy)

Temporary employment

Dalton Shell, special education aide at W.S. Neal Elementary School, effective Aug. 3, 2020 (replacing Damien Jackson-1st semester only)


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