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School leaders in Talladega County not caught off guard by Thursday announcement

Talladega County school leaders

From left, Dr. John Mascia, Tony Ball, Dr. Suzanne Lacey and Dr. Jon Segars. 

TALLADEGA COUNTY -- The announcement Thursday evening that the 2019-20 school year is basically over did not come as a particular surprise to leaders of the four public school systems in Talladega County, who are in the process of planning how to continue the educational process.

In a prepared statement, Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind President Dr. John Mascia said, “Throughout the COVID-19 situation, I have been in constant communication with Vera Hendrix, vice president of instructional programs, and our school administrators and teachers to ensure that we are providing the best education and service to our students at Alabama School for the Blind, Alabama School for the Deaf and Helen Keller School.

“I want to reassure you that even though this is a very unusual situation, our commitment to our students and their families remains strong. 

“I know that right now we have students who are missing their friends and teachers, graduating seniors whose final year in school is not finishing in the way they planned, and parents and guardians who are unsure about how they will be able to help with their child’s education. 

“At AIDB, we often use the phrase ‘Deaf.Blind.Limitless.’ We will once again show ourselves, and the rest of the world, what it means to be ‘limitless.’”

He went on to say, “Our teachers and administrators have already begun working on individualized plans for each of our students, including an inventory of what supplies and devices each student will need. 

“By April 1, 2020, our plans will be finalized, and we will be reaching out to every student and their family to put in place what they need to begin distance learning. We will also have a plan in place to deliver each student’s personal belongings. 

“Decisions regarding the reopening of other AIDB programs will be made in accordance with the Alabama Department of Public Health and communicated as soon as possible. Together, we will finish this school year successfully.”

Talladega City, County

Talladega City Schools Superintendent Tony Ball and Talladega County Schools Superintendent Dr. Suzanne Lacey both said they had been conferring with the state Friday to develop academic continuity plans for their respective systems.

“We’re looking at different ways to continue delivering instruction,” Ball said. “The employees will still be working, but with social distance guidelines in place. We may have some teachers working at home, or from school, or working in staggered shifts. There’s a lot to digest and there’s still a lot to decide.”

Ball added city schools had already completed ACT testing, and the plan will be for all students to continue advancing. That includes high school seniors.

“If they were on track to graduate before this happened, they will graduate,” he said. Plans were still up in the air as of Friday, but “we will have a graduation ceremony for them at some point, even if it’s in June or July. We want to be able to celebrate their accomplishments.”

Ball also spoke highly of state Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey for his leadership. 

“My hat is off to him and his staff,” he said. “They’ve done yeoman's work with the academic continuity plans, giving the local districts enough flexibility to do what they need to do while setting out just a couple of absolutes. These are tough times.”

The city system will also be distributing breakfast and lunch again next week at Talladega High School and the community centers at West Gate, Knoxville Homes and Curry Court on Monday, March 30, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The bags will contain five days’ worth of breakfasts and lunches. 

The plan after that is still a work in progress, however. 

“We may start doing daily meals after that, but we really don’t know yet,” Ball said. “We will be operating under the federal summer feeding program, however.”

Lacey said the closure announcement didn’t surprise her, either. 

“If you look at the data, at the cases increasing, I think this is certainly the right decision,” she said. “Nothing can replace daily face-to-face instruction, but you have to put the health and well-being of the students and the staff above all.”

The county system is looking at using a “hybrid approach” to continuing the teaching and learning process during the emergency closure. “We will be doing online learning, but we will also have work packages for families with no or limited internet access,” Lacey said.

The emphasis will be on keeping current seniors on track to graduate, with a focus on critical skills for students in kindergarten through eighth grade and on credit-bearing courses for students in grades 9-11.

County schools provided breakfasts and lunches Thursday and Friday of this week and will likely do the same next week, the superintendent said. Alabama Childhood Food Solutions is helping with weekend meals, and a plan is being worked out to continue feeding students into the hiatus.

All of the planning going on in the county system is based on state recommendations, which Lacey described as “helpful and proactive.”

Sylacauga City

Sylacauga City Schools Superintendent Dr. Jon Segars said Thursday his system “will resume classes on Monday, April 6, through its many distance education platforms … We are adept at using multiple means to communicate with our students and families, and we plan to employ all resources to provide for every student. 

“Our intent is for each student to attain all grade-level standards before the June 5 announced end of the school year.”

Segars also said there will be a ceremony at some point to honor graduating seniors.