Free meals

Good Hope cafeteria workers, teachers and community volunteers gather at the school in March to prepare free breakfast and lunch for the county's students.

Cullman County’s two school systems have new dates for students to return to school, and the specific guidelines that students will have to follow are set to be released by the state next week.

During Thursday night’s meeting of the Cullman County School Board, Cullman County Schools Superintendent Shane Barnette provided an update on the system’s plans for reopening in the fall, and said State Superintendent Eric Mackey and his team will release their guidance for reopening next week.

Before the state releases its plan, Cullman County Schools have already developed a local plan that will go along with the state’s, he said.

Barnette said schools will be working on a three-tiered framework, with traditional in-class learning beginning on Aug. 20. If COVID-19 cases see a spike in the county, the system will move into a blended learning environment that will include a mix of in-class and online work, and if those case numbers get even higher, the system can move to all virtual learning, he said.

During the Cullman City School Board’s meeting earlier this week, Cullman City Schools Superintendent Susan Patterson said the city system is preparing a similar plan with the same three tiers when its students return to school on Aug. 19.

Both Patterson and Barnette said they believe there will be some room for each school system to make their own local decisions, which means some areas that become a hotspot for the virus could move to virtual learning while other systems stay in school or blended learning, or move between the three options.

“We’re trying to prepare for that as best we can,” Patterson said. “Hopefully we’ll have all those guidelines in place to cover whatever we may need to do.”

Even with the plan to return to in-class education, there will be an option for virtual learning for students who may not want to come back to the classroom, but it is important that the system offers the chance to return to school for face-to-face learning, Barnette said.

“Me and my staff and all of our schools, we’re letting folks know that we want students in school on Aug. 20 face-to-face,” he said. “I am confident that kids learn better sitting in a classroom with a teacher than they do reading and watching a video screen.”

One important thing to note is that while county students will have the option of in-class or virtual learning, they will not be able to switch between the two during the semester, Barnette said.

“If they sign their child up to be taught virtually, or get digital content, they will be committing to one whole semester,” he said. “They can’t just come back-and-forth whenever it’s convenient for them.”

Tyler Hanes can be reached at 256-734-2131 ext. 238.

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