Both Montgomery County Public Schools and Birmingham City Schools on Wednesday announced plans to have students begin virtual learning for the first nine weeks of school rather than in-person classes as public health officials struggle to control the spread of COVID-19 in Alabama and across the country.
Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Ann Roy Moore in a press conference Wednesday announced the decision and said the school system would determine whether to extend virtual learning beyond those nine weeks “at a later date.” Moore said of parents surveyed, 18,558 requested virtual learning instead of in-person school.
Birmingham City Schools Interim Superintendent Mark Sullivan said at a separate press conference Wednesday that school administrators “have constantly watched the COVID-19 cases in our city and across our state rise” and while the decision wasn’t easily made, he believes it’s best for students’ safety well-being.
Decisions by those two school systems come as numerous others across the state have also decided against immediately reopening schools to children, as COVID-19 patients in recent weeks have filled hospitals to record levels and deaths from the virus hit an all-time daily high on Wednesday.
Numerous school districts statewide have opted for online learning to start the 2020-2021 school year. Those include Tuscaloosa City, Mobile County, Madison County, Madison City, Huntsville City, Anniston City, Bullock County, Greene County, Bessemer City, Midfield City, Montgomery County and Selma City schools.
Most Alabama school systems have given parents the option of in-person school, blended learning — in which a student attends school in-person for some classes and the remainder online — or virtual learning.
There remain questions as to what might prompt school systems to transition from in-person learning to remote learning if COVID-19 cases surge in local areas. For now, that decision has been left to local districts to make.
“Currently, no guidance has been presented from the ALSDE, ADPH or the CDC regarding an infection rate that would trigger a transition to blended or remote learning,’ Piedmont City Schools said in a “frequently asked questions” document published Tuesday.
It’s also not clear whether parents will be notified if a classmate or teacher tests positive for COVID-19.
“Will I be notified if a classmate/teacher of my child has tested positive for COVID-19?” Piedmont’s document states. “We are awaiting further guidance from the ADPH, ALSDE, and other sources on notification procedures.”
The Alabama Department of Education’s “Roadmap to Reopening Schools” plan doesn’t address what local school systems should do if a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19.
Alabama School Superintendent Erik Mackey told WHNT 19 earlier in June that state education officials will not be involved in the coronavirus notification process.
“Whoever conducts that test is required to report that to the department of public health and then public health takes it from there,” Mackey told the news station.