Students in the Cullman County School System will be attending schools four days a week when school begins on Aug. 20.
Cullman County Schools Superintendent Shane Barnette said the system will have its students attend on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and will have them stay at home on Wednesday to allow for deep cleanings at each school to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and hopefully keep schools open for traditional instruction.
"We are doing our best to continue to come face-to-face," he said.
He said schools will maintain their four-day schedule for at least the first nine weeks of the year, and possibly for the entire semester.
In addition to the deep cleanings that will be conducted on Wednesdays, the day of virtual learning for students will also let them become more accustomed to it in the event that the system is forced to move to remote learning, Barnette said.
He said around 12 percent of the system's student population has signed up to attend school virtually for at least the first semester of school, and having the open day on Wednesday will give them a chance to correspond with their teachers during the regular school day.
Barnette said the system is not trying to inconvenience families by having students stay home for one day out of the week, and the schools are reaching out to local churches and community organizations to ask them to host day camps on Wednesdays to give working parents a place to send their children.
The beginning of the school year will also look a little different this year, as part of another effort to limit exposure to COVID-19.
In a video sent out to parents Monday evening, Barnette said students with the last name beginning with A-K, or Group A, will attend school on Thursday, Aug. 20 for their first day of school, and students will the last name beginning with L-Z, or Group B, will have their first day of school on Friday, Aug. 21.
"There's a couple reasons why we're doing this," he said. "One of those reasons is we have smaller groups initially while the kids learn those protocols like social distancing and some of the other things we have going on on our campuses with returning face-to-face."
Organizing students in such a matter for the beginning of school will also let students familiarize themselves with their groups in the event that the system moves to a hybrid form of learning.
If cases rise to a high level in the county, the system has the option to move to the hybrid model that would blend in-person and remote learning. In that event, the students in Group A would go to school in-person on Monday and Tuesday and students in Group B would go to school on Thursday and Friday. When groups are not in school, they would do their work remotely.
"We hope we don't have to do that, but just in case we have to move into that type of instruction, they'll know those groups," Barnette said.