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Governor announces $170 million for health care, remote learning in public schools

The governor on Monday awarded $70 million to support the Alabama State Department of Education’s Education Health and Wellness Grant Program and $100 million to support the Educational Remote Learning Devices Grant Program.

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Governor Kay Ivey on Monday awarded $70 million to support the Alabama State Department of Education’s (ALSDE) Education Health and Wellness Grant Program and $100 million to support the Educational Remote Learning Devices Grant Program.

“COVID-19 greatly impacted delivery of instruction within our public schools and, in many cases, exposed our weakest areas of remote learning capabilities,” Governor Kay Ivey said. “I appreciate Dr. Mackey’s plan that will provide our students the ability to continue learning despite the unprecedented circumstances. These funds will allow local schools to be flexible to meet the unique needs of their students while keeping them as safe as possible.”

Alabama received approximately $1.9 billion of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to respond to and mitigate COVID-19. Alabama Act 2020-199 designated up to $250 million of the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) to be used to support the delivery of health care and related services to citizens of Alabama related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Education Health and Wellness Grant Program will provide $70 million directly to local education agencies for the sole purpose of minimizing the exposure and spread of COVID-19 in Alabama’s public-school system. Local education agencies may only use the grant funds to:

  • Fund salaries or wages for health care professionals or aides to provide COVID-19 response or care,
  • to contract for specimen collection and testing of COVID-19,
  • temporary facility improvements and supplies for nurses’ work areas for COVID-19 response,
  • the creation of isolation areas for symptomatic students,
  • screening equipment to check body temperature,
  • and modification of school transportation vehicles to mitigate or isolate the spread of COVID-19.

“I appreciate Governor Ivey’s continued commitment to education in Alabama,” Dr. Eric Mackey said.

“The health and well-being of our students, teachers, and staff is a vital part of being able to deliver high-quality instruction to our students and this has been a key priority of the State Board of Education. The weighted distribution ensures that funds flow to our most vulnerable students which is critical during the pandemic.” 

Alabama Act 2020-199 designated up to $300 million of the Coronavirus Relief Fund to be used for expenditures related to technology and infrastructure related to remote instruction and learning.

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The Educational Remote Learning Devices Grant Program will provide $100 million directly to local education agencies to fund the purchase of electronic devices and software and related training and maintenance services, for the purpose of facilitating remote virtual learning and the overall continuity of learning in Alabama’s public school system as a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The governor and I are mutually committed to ensuring Alabama’s students have the necessary tools to access a quality education,” Senator Del Marsh, President Pro Tempore of the Alabama Senate said. “I appreciate Governor Ivey’s work with the State Board of Education, the superintendent and others to implement a program through which local school systems can utilize CARES Act funding to meet students’ technology needs for the upcoming school year.”

Each local education agency applying for reimbursement under the Education Remote Learning Devices Grant Program, prior to expending funds, must provide the Alabama State Department of Education:

  • a remote learning plan compatible with the devices to be purchased,
  • information to ensure teachers and instructors are proficient with the operations of the device including technical support,
  • a plan developed by each school to ensure each student has access or availability to the internet, and a plan for maintenance of the devices, including software updates, physical repairs, and replacement of lost and damaged devices.
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Funds will be awarded to local education agencies based on a formula that accounts for student enrollment, poverty levels, special education students, English learner students, student proficiency levels and the impact of COVID-19.

All local education agencies will receive a minimum of $70,000 from the Education Health and Wellness Grant Program in addition to the amount determined by the formula. All local education agencies will receive a minimum of $100,000 from the Education Remote Learning Devices Grant Program in addition to the amount determined by the formula.

Any contracts or other agreements entered into by ALSDE or local education agencies that utilize the Coronavirus Relief Fund provided under this memorandum of understanding can only be funded with CRF funds until December 15, 2020, at the latest. After December 15, 2020, a different funding source must be utilized for such contracts or other agreements.

The Alabama Political Reporter is a daily political news site devoted to Alabama politics. We provide accurate, reliable coverage of policy, elections and government.

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Education

New website for state resources for children, families launches

The website provides access to all the state’s resources for children and their families, including child care, education, family services and health services.

Eddie Burkhalter

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A screengrab of the Alabama Family Central website.

Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced the creation of a centralized website for the state’s social service programs and services for children and families. 

Alabama Family Central was created through a $500,000 allocation by the state Legislature from the state’s Education Trust Fund budget and provides access to all the state’s resources for children and their families, including child care, education, family services and health services, according to Ivey’s office. 

“Alabama Family Central will ensure that all parents and children in our state have access to crucial information and resources from numerous state agencies and non-profit organizations,” Ivey said in a statement. “Great parents need strong partners, and I am proud of the strong collaboration between the state and private sector to offer a one-stop shop of assistance for Alabama families. I appreciate the Alabama Partnership for Children spearheading this effort.”

In addition to pointing visitors to state programs and services, the website also points families who are undertaking remote school learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic to A+ Education Partnership, which advocates for quality education in Alabama.

The state website specifically directs visitors to a page that provides COVID-19 resources for parents, including sections on guidance and decision-making, supporting learning from home and coping and well-being. 

“When I learned that our students would be learning remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my heart immediately went out to the parents who would need assistance teaching their children at home,” said State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, in a statement. “I requested funding to set up such assistance, so I humbly thank Governor Kay Ivey and Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, for granting that request. It was a pleasure working with A+ Education Partnership and the Alabama Partnership for Children to incorporate this idea into their programs, and I look forward to its expansion. Every child deserves access to the highest quality education, no matter their circumstances.”

The Alabama Family Central website includes:

  • A+ Education Partnership
  • Alabama Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention
  • Alabama Department of Early Education
  • Alabama Department of Education
  • Alabama Department of Human Resources
  • Alabama Department of Mental Health
  • Alabama Department of Public Health
  • Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services
  • Alabama Medicaid

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Education

Friday is deadline for Shelby County remote learning students to decide to return or not

Some parents have expressed concern that they have to make a decision so early.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Sept. 25 is the deadline for Shelby County schools students who have begun the school year to decide whether they want to return for the next nine weeks or continue learning remotely.

Starting on Monday, Sept. 14, the students who chose the traditional model of learning transitioned from two days a week of in-person instruction to five days a week as part of the “Back Together” phase of the Shelby County Schools reopening plan.

“Traditional in-person students may transition to remote learning if you have concerns about returning to school five days a week,” said Superintendent Dr. Lewis Brooks in a letter to parents. “Students who are currently remote students must continue in that platform but will be able to transition to in-person instruction starting October 12, 2020. Please reach out to your local school principal if you are a remote learner and plan to return to traditional in-person instruction at the end of the grading period on or before September 25, 2020.”

Some parents have expressed concern that they have to make a decision so early.

Shelby County Schools spokesperson Cindy Warner told APR that this decision is for the next nine weeks.

Students in traditional at-school learning can switch to online learning at any time — just like a student who tests positive for the coronavirus.

But parents are being asked to make the decision if they are going to stay online or not because the system doesn’t want students going back and forth between online classes and traditional at-school classes.

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Warner said that 25 percent of students are currently in online instruction but from what they have heard from parents, they expect that many of those students will return.

Warner said that if a parent elects for their children to remain in online learning, they will be given the option of going to traditional in-person learning after this nine-week grading period ends.

Warner said that they did not know how many Shelby County students have tested positive for the coronavirus because the state is going to soon be reporting that data on their dashboard.

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A parent at Oak Mountain High School shared an email with APR in which the school announced that that high school alone had 20 students who have tested positive and are in isolation, plus 68 students who are in quarantine because they have been exposed to the coronavirus.

Shelby County has the fifth-highest number of coronavirus cases with 5,116 cases including 299 in the past week. Some 41 Shelby County residents have died from COVID-19 — 14th highest in the state.

At least 2,507 Alabamians have died of COVID-19, four of them children age 0 to 17.

“If your child is exhibiting symptoms, please keep him/her home. If your child has tested positive, please contact the school nurse,” Oak Mountain High School wrote to parents.

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Dr. Chris Cox appointed interim president at Bevill State Community College

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Alabama Community College System Chancellor Jimmy Baker on Wednesday announced the appointment of Dr. Chris Cox as interim president of Bevill State Community College. Cox will serve in the role until a permanent president is named at the completion of a presidential search. 

Cox has more than 24 years of higher education administration experience and currently serves as interim president at Lurleen B. Wallace Community College. Prior to his role at LBW, Cox served as the executive director of workforce solutions and innovations for the Alabama Community College System.

“Time and time again, Dr. Cox has proven to be a capable leader and I’m confident Bevill State will be well-served by his time as Interim President,” Baker said. “Chris’s innovative and enthusiastic approach is a benefit to students, faculty, and staff alike.”  

A Geneva, Alabama, native, Cox began his career as a teacher and coach at Dale County High School in Midland City. He later served as assistant principal at Geneva High School in Geneva and principal at Pinedale Elementary School in Enterprise.

Prior to joining the ACCS, Cox spent time in Oxford, first as Oxford High School’s principal and then as assistant superintendent for the Oxford City Board of Education. Cox earned a bachelor of science in social science from Troy State University and a master of science in educational administration from Alabama State University.

Cox earned his doctorate of philosophy in educational administration from Auburn University.

“I am ready to hit the ground running to cover the more than 4,600 square miles that Bevill State and its campuses serve in the great state of Alabama,” Cox said. “Bevill State is a special place and I look forward to working alongside the faculty, staff, and administration to best serve our students. Go Bears!”

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Cox’s tenure at Bevill State Community College will begin on Thursday, Oct. 1.

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Alabama declines to release COVID-19 data associated with child care centers

APR has asked for that data and whether ADPH was aware of the number of cases associated with child care centers statewide.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

It was unclear Tuesday the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 there have been among staff, children and relatives associated with child care facilities in Alabama, because the Alabama Department of Public Health declined to release that data.

“All cases of COVID-19 are required to be reported to the Alabama Department of Public Health under notifiable disease laws. ADPH is aware of cases in entities such as child care but does not report separately from other data,” said Dr. Karen Landers, assistant state health officer, in a message to APR on Tuesday.

APR has asked for that data and whether ADPH was aware of the number of cases associated with child care centers statewide.

Landers noted that ADPH does provide the percentage of cases among age ranges, however. There had been approximately 2,628 confirmed COVID-19 cases among Alabama children 4-years-old and younger as of Monday, according to ADPH’s dashboard, but the department doesn’t specify which of those cases are associated with child care centers, and it was unclear how many cases there have been among relatives or workers connected to child care centers.

While children 10-years-old and older can efficiently transmit COVID-19 to others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a recent report note that “limited data are available on SARS-CoV-2 transmission from young children, particularly in child care settings.”

The Sept, 18 CDC report looked at three COVID-19 outbreaks in child care facilities in Salt Lake County, Utah, during April 1 through July 10, and found that the 12 children who contracted the disease spread it to at least 12 others outside the centers, and one parent was hospitalized with coronavirus.

In one facility, researchers confirmed five cases among workers and two among children. One of those children, aged 8 months, transmitted COVID-19 to both parents, the report notes. Many of the children had mild symptoms or none at all, researchers found.

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“COVID-19 is less severe in children than it is in adults, but children can still play a role in transmission,” the report reads. “The infected children exposed at these three facilities had mild to no symptoms. Two of three asymptomatic children likely transmitted SARS-CoV-2 to their parents and possibly to their teachers.”

While Alabama’s Department of Public Health isn’t releasing data on cases associated with child care centers, many other states are, including Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, California, Minnesota and Massachusetts.

There have been 332 confirmed cases, two deaths and 14 separate outbreaks associated with child care centers in North Carolina, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

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Health officials in California’s Sonoma County traced 30 cases of coronavirus to one child at a child-care center in the county, where 16 students, 11 relatives and three workers tested positive, according to The Los Angeles Times. In addition to that outbreak, there have been 62 other cases at 13 child-care facilities in the county, including 27 family members, 10 workers and 25 students, with 381 cases of children younger than 17 still under investigation, the newspaper reported on Sept. 21.

Reopening child care centers can be done safely, according to an Aug. 28 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which that found that in Rhode Island, which reopened child care centers on June 1, there were just 52 confirmed and probable cases among staff, children and relatives across 29 centers between June 1 and July 31.

The report noted that Rhode Island at first limited centers to 12 or fewer students, required staff and students to not move between groups in centers and “universal use of masks for adults, daily symptom screening of adults and children, and enhanced cleaning and disinfection according to CDC guidelines.”

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris on March 19 issued an order closing child care centers through April 5, with exceptions for facilities that provided services to first responders and other workers deemed essential. Harris on March 27 issued a supplemental order allowing centers that cared for 11 or fewer children to reopen.

The Alabama Department of Public Health on Monday published a press release touting the number of open child care centers across Alabama. According to the department, 76 percent of all child care facilities in Alabama are open.

“Alabama is well on our way to reopening the necessary number of child care facilities to enable parents to return to work and resume a more normal schedule,” said Alabama DHR commissioner Nancy Buckner, in a statement. “This is the sixth survey we have conducted and each one has shown tremendous growth in the numbers of open facilities. We have worked hard to encourage child care providers to open by providing support in the form of grants and supplies.”

Asked whether the department is aware of the number of COVID-19 cases among children, staff or relatives associated with child care centers, a DHR spokesperson responded in a message to APR on Monday that “We don’t track that.”

While child care plays a critical role for working parents across the country, the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns have put a strain on the businesses, according to a July 13 study by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, which surveyed more than 5,000 child care facilities in every state.

Among the child care centers surveyed, two out of five said they would have to close without more public assistance, while half of the minority-owned centers said they have to close without more aid, according to the report. A quarter of child care workers said they’d applied for or received unemployment benefits, and 73 percent of centers said they have or will begin laying off workers and/or make pay cuts.

An Aug. 26 study by the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center found that 32 percent of parents polled said their child care centers were closed, 14 percent of them permanently, and 22 percent of the parents said they could not return to work in person without childcare.

Even when child care is available to parents, many are worried about sending their children back while COVID-19 continues to spread. Of those asked, 77 percent of parents said they were concerned that sending their kids back would increase the risk of exposing their family to COVID-19.

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