The Georgia Department of Education and the Georgia Department of Public Health unveiled a plan Monday that provides guidance on the reopening of schools.

“Georgia’s Path to Recovery for K-12 Schools” offers guidance based on community-specific levels of COVID-19 spread.

The guidelines are not requirements but are meant to provide considerations for local school leaders as they develop their own plans to reopen in the fall, which is not a mandatory start time.

The plan calls for placing school districts in one of three levels: substantial spread of COVID-19; minimal/moderate spread; or low/no spread.

State and local health official will determine the level at which a district is placed. Each level includes a set of recommendations for preventing infection, transporting students, entering school buildings, serving meals, transitioning between classes, conducting large group gatherings, supporting teaching and learning and protecting vulnerable populations.

Based on a system’s needs, school will begin with either in-person classes, distance learning or a hybrid model.

Glynn County Schools will be sending out a district survey soon on distance learning.

“Our close communication with local and state health agencies, along with the results of this survey, will help inform our decisions regarding reopening school,” the school system said in a released statement. “We do not yet know which level Glynn County falls within.”

The state education department recently created six “K-12 Restart Working Groups” that will meet through the summer and fall to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on schools.

“We created these guidelines in partnership with Dr. Kathleen Toomey and her team at the Georgia Department of Public Health to give school districts a blueprint for a safe reopening that is realistic in the K-12 setting,” said State School Superintendent Richard Wood. “We have a responsibility to keep our students, teachers, school staff and families safe and to provide the best possible education for our children. I’m confident these guidelines will help schools accomplish both of those objectives.”

Most of the guidelines provided in the 10-page plan are designed to limit the potential spread of COVID-19 while allowing learning to continue.

Each level includes a guideline to participate in contract tracing efforts and specimen collection efforts as directed by health officials.

In communities with substantial spread, schools that are closed will remain closed and will implement distance and remote learning.

Schools in communities reporting minimal to moderate spread will be provided with the most specific guidelines. These include enhanced social distancing measures and isolation, as well as the deep cleaning of impacted classrooms and spaces.

Schools in this level will need to provide face masks to bus drivers and allow students to wear face masks or coverings. Students and bus drivers will be screened for symptoms of illness, and classroom seating will be spaced as far apart as possible.

Field trips are to be eliminated.

Students and staff will have their temperatures taken before entering school buildings.

Disposable plates and utensils will be used and schools will be required to stagger cafeteria seating. Alternate models include serving meals in classrooms or in cafeterias with spaced serving lines, longer meal periods for more staggered meal delivery and consideration of pre-packed boxes or bags for each student instead of traditional serving lines.

These schools are to provide staff with personal protection equipment, and water fountains are to be turned off.

All schools are to consider ways to accommodate the needs of children, teachers, staff and families at higher risk for severe illness.

The plan also includes several instructional model options for schools in communities with minimal to moderate spread of the virus.

To support teaching and learning, the state suggests surveying families to gauge which students may want to conduct schooling virtually.

A traditional learning option would allow school buildings to open and implement more intensive mitigation strategies while encouraging enhanced distance and remote learning.

Physical interaction is to be limited during partner or group work, and distance is to be established between teachers’ desks and boards and the students’ desks.

A hybrid option would feature limited and staggered use of school buildings by alternating schedules for students and targeted distance and remote learning.

“Hybrid models should only be implemented if absolutely necessary and after factoring in additional logistical requirements and costs as well as day care requirements placed on working families and unnecessary burden on staff,” according to the guidelines. “Consider allowing special education students to continue in person instruction as these students often rely on daily routines and social interactions to address their individual learning needs.”

One option is to implement “A/B schedules,” which could be in the form of alternating days, alternating weeks or half days for different groups of students.

Schools could also opt to continue full distance and remote learning, with minimal use of school buildings.

The plan recommends that schools in communities with low or no spread return to traditional instruction, while implementing preventative practices and additional proactive protocols.

These schools are to establish an academic baseline and administer formative assessments toward the start of the school year.

Additional instructional supports are to be provided to students at risk of not graduating on time, students with disabilities, students who struggled in the prior distance and remote learning environments and other students identified as being behind academically.

The full guidelines can be read at georgiainsights.com/recovery.html.

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