CLAYTON--The 2019-20 academic school year ended in an untraditional fashion due to the coronavirus pandemic and plans for the new school year are starting in an unconventional way.
The “new normal” of a world mid-pandemic has delayed the start of school and shaken up how Rabun County Schools, Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School and Tallulah Falls School will begin in the fall.
Rabun County Schools
Rabun County Schools plans to begin the school year on Wednesday, August 12 and students will have two options for curriculum method: traditional setting or virtual learning.
School officials recently released its “road map for re-opening Rabun County Schools” and students will have the opportunity to choose between attending the school year in a traditional school setting (100 percent face-to-face daily) or via virtual learning (100 percent online).
School officials said that an electronic survey was sent out beginning July 14 for parents and students to choose their preferred instruction method.
The traditional school opening will “closely follow best practices and guidance recommended by state and local officials,” according to a PowerPoint presentation revealing the “road map for reopening.”
The virtual learning option is not available for pre-k students, the document noted.
Superintendent April Childers updated opening plans for Board of Education members at their meeting last Thursday.
“Just know that anything related to COVID-19 is fluid,” Childers said, beginning the PowerPoint presentation for board members. “COVID-19 is changing how we do things every day.”
Childers said that the method of instruction chosen would be effective for the entire year.
Although there was much heated debate in social media forums and concerns from parents about details surrounding school reopening and graduation, the meeting yielded only two parents approaching board members with their concerns.
Roxie Forrester, parent of a student, questioned council members and said that she was trying to gather all of the information to make an educated decision on which curriculum method to choose for her children.
One question Forrester asked was whether students would be allowed to bring their own disinfectant products.
Childers said that it would be best if students did not bring their own items, and instead utilized the resources they have at the school.
Forrester asked additional questions regarding the safety of the children when they go back to school.
“We’re adding more details as we go along,” Childers assured Forrester. She said that because COVID-19 is flexible and fluid, plans are changing constantly.
Childers said that school officials and board members are coming up with plans that are in the best interest of faculty, staff, parents and students based upon considerations and recommendations from the Georgia Department of Education, the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“[The situation is] fluid and bear with us,” Childers urged meeting attendees.
“We do appreciate y’all coming and voicing those concerns,” said Chairman Steve Cabe to Forrester and Bobby Welch, who expressed concerns about graduation plans to board members. “We will take those into consideration.”
Details in the “road map to reopening” plan
Opting for the traditional school setting entails strict procedures and changes regarding classroom procedure, nutrition, transportation and social interaction in and out of the classroom to ensure measures are being taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Students interested in the virtual learning option must attend a face to face orientation.
Changes listed in the plan about how face to face classes would operate include having approved disinfectant and hand sanitizer in every classroom, the installation of touchless water bottle filling stations and one-way hallways when possible.
There will be staggered class changes to reduce the number of students in the hallway at one time and no visitors are allowed in the building.
Childers said that the goal is to provide the children with an environment that allows as high quality of an education as possible. She said that measures are being put in place to keep the spread down.
“All visitors will be required to wear a face mask or shield when entering the front office area,” according to the plan.
Changes to faculty/staff and students
Procedures faculty members have to abide by include self-monitoring symptoms and temperature before arriving to work, educate themselves on proper cleaning techniques and practice and promote social distancing.
For mask requirements, middle and high school staff will be required to wear a mask when in the presence of other employees and/or students and primary and elementary school staff members will be required to wear a mask when in the presence of others outside of their classroom or work space.
Per Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive order released on July 15, school systems can mandate the wearing of masks. This is different from the policy stating that masks cannot be mandated on public property.
The order reads, “…including screening and evaluating workers and students who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19…
As appropriate and practicable at the discretion of the local school board or applicable board of directors, requiring workers and students to wear face masks or face coverings while indoors on school property during school hours.
Students are highly encouraged to wear masks and to bring their own water bottles.
They will be directed as to where they should enter their school buildings and temperature screenings may occur.
Nutriton, transportation, facilities
Guidelines for nutrition include serving breakfast and lunch in classrooms and limiting the mixing of classes where applicable.
Face masks are required for students riding a bus and adjustments will be made to some bus routes to reduce the number of students at one time.
Families are encouraged to social distance at bus stops with other families and assigned seating will be implemented.
In addition, there will be no field trips during the school year.
To maintain the facilities, additional sanitation stations will be added throughout the buildings and rooms will be disinfected as transitions occur. Buildings will be deep cleaned regularly and there will be no large gatherings and maintained flow through common areas.
Signage with precautionary measures and reminders will be posted throughout the buildings.
Childers said these steps are being taken in order “to make sure kids enjoy school but we do it in the safest manner possible.”
“We’re doing the best we can with what we have,” Childers added.
Visit rabuncountyschools.org to view the full “Road Map to Reopening” plan.
Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School
Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School plans to start the school year on Wednesday, August 26 with in-person classes, fully operational in all programs, according to Megan Morris, director of marketing and communication.
“Rabun Gap's traditionally small class sizes and 1,400-acre campus allow for a safe and healthy opening. Because of our international boarding community, we have been monitoring the spread of coronavirus since early January,” Morris said in a statement Monday.
“The school's leadership team has been working for months to develop our "Safer Together" plan for a safe and successful 2020-2021 academic year. This plan was informed by recommendations from both the Georgia and North Carolina Departments of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Key aspects of the plan include social distancing, use of masks and contact-free water filling stations, semi-quarantine and testing upon arrival for boarding students, flexible classroom environments, increased sanitizing standards, safety training for all students and employees, and limited access to campus for visitors.”
To add to the opening on in-person classes, students who are unable to return to school in person this fall will be offered a learning model that incorporates synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities with individual faculty support.
"While school might look a little different this year, we are committed to preserving the special opportunities for growth, learning, and community that are hallmarks of the Rabun Gap experience," said Head of School Jeff Miles. "We have had boarding students on campus throughout the summer and have been able to develop protocols and procedures for our community. Rabun Gap is in a strong position; we will start the 2020-2021 academic year with record enrollment. This is a testament to the hard work of our faculty and staff and the trust of our parents and community. I am looking forward to seeing our campus full of life this fall. We will continue the legacy of Rabun Gap for the next 100 years."
Tallulah Falls School
Tallulah Falls School will delay the start of school by two weeks and begin the 2020-21 school year on Monday, Aug. 24.
A letter from Head of School Larry Peevy said the revised date will allow for as smooth a transition back to in-person learning as possible.
“As school leaders, we are currently charged with making difficult decisions based on constantly evolving circumstances. However, one fact remains steadfast – our commitment to protecting the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff,” Peevy said.
The return to school includes a 14-day shelter-in period for arriving international students, beginning Aug. 7.
“For our day student families, we ask that you use this time to limit nonessential travel for two weeks prior to the beginning of classes to minimize any potential exposure before we come back together on Aug. 24,” Peevy said in his letter.
Blended learning will be available for students who are in a high-risk category, those with temporary health concerns where on-campus attendance is not recommended by a physician and families that may not feel comfortable.
The return to campus will come with a list of health protocols and guidelines, along with wellness screenings to enter academic buildings. Students, faculty and staff will be required to have a mask with them at all times and could be asked to wear it at any time during the school day.
The Northeast Georgian contributed to this story.