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DCSS considers revised calendar; safety procedures for summer, upcoming school year

Proposed calendar calls for later school start; embedded remote learning days

Demopolis City Schools are preparing for the next school year amidst measures to ensure student safety.

During a special called board meeting on Monday, June 1, school officials will be discussing plans for the 2020-21 school year, including a revised proposed calendar, the State Department of Education’s “Summer Safe Return” strategy, and other related items.

The proposed calendar is being revised to allow students to start one week later, moving the first day of school from August 13 to August 20.

According to Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff, the calendar changes are a result of the anticipated needs to ensure staff and the facilities are prepared to meet certain health standards related to the COVID-19 virus.

“The State Department of Education will announce in June what all school systems will need to do. We were told that schools that start earlier in August would want to push that first day until further in the month,” Kallhoff said.

Kallhoff said the additional time before students arrive on campus will allow additional professional development time for teachers to prepare for additional remote learning.

“This time will provide an opportunity to plan for remote learning in the case this were to happen again. It will also serve as a time to train our staff on safety precautions,” Kallhoff added.

Another change within the 2020-21 school calendar will be the inclusion of four embedded remote learning days, or days when students will not attend classes, but will be responsible for learning either through paper packets or online. Those days will be October 15-16, Feb. 16, and March 15.

“We are still meeting our required 176 days of schools and the state has approved a waiver for going under 180 days,” the superintendent said.

All holidays, including a week for Thanksgiving, are remaining the same as recent school years.

“This calendar came about after speaking with teachers and parents. We shared a draft and made some adjustments based on the feedback we received,” Kallhoff said.

SUMMER PROGRAMS

With some school activities traditionally being held during the summer months, the system will allow for students ages 13 and older — or those at the high school and middle school — to resume those activities under certain conditions.

Those students scheduled to attend summer school will be able to opt out of attending. Also those who participate in extracurricular programs, such as football, volleyball, band, and cheerleading, will not be penalized if they are uncomfortable with joining in summer practices and events.

“Nothing is going to be mandatory and those who do not attend these programs will not be penalized,” Kallhoff said.

During these sessions, the student-to-teacher ration will be 1:12. The schools will also be utilizing larger rooms, such as gyms, libraries, and computer labs, to meet the state guidelines of one person to every 36 square feet of space.

Students entering the facilities will also have to go through a process of getting their temperatures checked and answer health-related questions. “Based on their answers, a student may be isolated until a guardian can pick them up and will not be allowed to return until they have been tested,” Kallhoff said.

There will also be hand sanitizer at entry points and those entering will be required to use it upon entering and exiting the building.

Facial protection is recommended.

“ We are encouraging all employees and students to bring facial coverings,” Kallhoff said. “Parents are asked to provide the coverings for their children. The schools have a few, but not enough to provide for everyone.”

These facial coverings may also be needed in cases were specific activities require students to be within six feet. Those participating in strenuous physical activities, such as running sprints at football practice, will not require facial coverings.

Extra cleaning will be high on the priority list throughout the summer programs.

“The rooms being used will be sanitized daily and all restrooms and locker rooms will be cleaned twice each day. Athletic equipment will be wiped down after each use,” Kallhoff said.

2020-21 SCHOOL YEAR ONLINE LEARNING

Leading into the next school year, the State Department of Education has announced that CARES Act funds will be used for the purchase of online curriculum for school systems. Kallhoff said having online courses available would allow the option for students to work from home.

“The thought is that, when school starts, if you are not comfortable sending your kids to school, there will be an online option. They would still be students our school system, except that the delivery of instruction would be online. We want to help those who are not comfortable sending their kids back to school,” he said.

The ALDOE continues to work on the online curriculum and Kallhoff said local systems should know more after June 19. “We want our parents to know that there will be options when school starts.”

DHS PRINCIPAL SEARCH

Another ongoing effort for the system is filling the Demopolis High School principal vacancy. Blaine Hathcock resigned from that post recently.

“A committee will be interviewing four to five candidates on June 8 and 9 and there will be follow-up interviews after that. We hope to have a recommendation to the board by the June 15 meeting and have a principal in place by July 1,” Kallhoff said.

(Editor’s Note: Two corrections have been made to this story since it first published. First, it was reported the first day for students would be August 24. The correct date is August 20, moved up one week from August 13. Second, it was stated the minimum number of school days is 80, but it is 180. The Demopolis Times apologizes for these errors.)