Alabama’s K-12 public school students will likely stay home well after the state-mandated school break that ends April 6 — but they’ll still have to study and finish the school year.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday ordered the state's schools to take up “alternate” means of instruction after the end of a school break that was intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.
“We must be serious about eliminating the spread of this virus,” Ivey said in a Thursday press conference at the Alabama State Capitol. “The public health orders are not suggestions. They have been put in place to protect your life.”
Ivey ordered schools closed two weeks ago, when the state identified its first five cases of COVID-19. By Thursday, the case count in Alabama passed 500 and one Jackson County resident was dead of the illness. The state seemed far from the end of its battle with the virus.
Despite the spread of the illness, there’s massive pressure on public officials to get back to business as usual. Jobless claims in Alabama skyrocketed in the week after the first cases were reported, likely because of state bans on large gatherings and limits on restaurants’ hours of operation. President Donald Trump stated earlier this week that he hoped to see the country “opened up and raring to go” by Easter, something many health officials have warned against.
State school superintendent Erick Mackey said he would hold a teleconference with the state’s superintendents Friday to discuss how to deliver instruction to students. He said he was well aware that some schools are well equipped with computers while some school districts are in areas that have almost no broadband access.
Mackey said that in areas where digital instruction isn’t available, teachers will prepare and distribute “take home packets” of homework to be completed.
“It’s just old fashioned: they make copies and they send things home,” he said.
State school board member Cynthia McCarty, speaking Thursday before the school-at-home plan was announced, said school officials were considering working with Alabama Public Television to find a way to deliver courses.
“Almost every household in Alabama has a TV,” she said. Mackey, in the press conference, confirmed that APT would work with schools to deliver coursework.
Young people were originally believed to not be at much risk of harm from the virus, but state officials closed schools to keep the virus from spreading among children who could bring it home to older people.
School officials are also concerned about a loss of reading and math skills among kids while school is closed — a phenomenon Mackey compared to the “summer slump” that occurs yearly.
Mackey said the school year would end June 5. The spring sports season is over, he said, and band events for spring are still canceled. Mackey said proms and graduation ceremonies might still take place, but they’ll have to be postponed until at least June 5, if not later.
Anniston schools superintendent Ray Hill said he likely won’t have a complete study-at-home plan worked out until after the conference call with Mackey on Friday. But he said he and the system’s teachers have already been thinking of ways to keep on teaching through the break.
“I have to admit we’re somewhat behind on technology,” he said. Anniston High School has a school-provided computer for every student, he said. The middle school has computers for most. The biggest gaps, he said, are with elementary school students.
He said the school is doing a survey to figure out which students do have computers at home. He said teachers have come up with inventive work-arounds, such as letting parents send photos of students’ work via cell phone.
“Most people do have a cell phone,” he said.
Throughout the break, lunchroom workers continued to provide lunches to students through distribution points throughout the city. Originally the plan was simply to make sure students were getting enough to eat. Hill now says the school-lunch distribution could also help teachers get homework assignments to students.
“One of the options we’re looking at is, we can get information to the students while we’re feeding them,” he said.
Hill said any plan would likely change if the state adopts tougher measures, like the shelter-in-place orders already in effect in other states.
Ivey, in the Thursday press conference, said again that she has no plan to issue such an order.
“We are not Louisiana,” she said. “We are not New York State. We are not California.”