LaGRANGE, Ga. (WRBL) – As Troup County students head back to school, Superintendent of the Troup County School System, Dr. Brian Shumate, is looking forward to starting school on time and keeping students safe.
“We gotta get back to as normal as possible and to really push kids academically or they might suffer for a long time. We don’t want that to happen so the academic focus is number one, of course with safety in mind all along the way. We’re not going to sacrifice safety just to push kids, we gotta make sure they’re safe but we also want them learning at high levels as we go forward,” said Shumate.
Shumate said he is very proud of the school system’s efforts to maintain normalcy last school year and hopes to achieve the same goal this year.
The school system intends to follow the CDC guidelines closely as they progress over the school year, updating the schools’ guidelines if necessary.
Cleaning protocols will remain very similar to the last school year. Antimicrobial treatments will be done every three months in the buildings overnight to reduce the spread of germs. Buses are going to be sanitized every night, water fountains will remain turned off and there will be contact tracing if anyone tests positive. As decided in the board meeting on August 5, 2021, a mask mandate is in effect again until data proves it can be lifted. Visitors will be limited in all school buildings and limited contact water stations for water bottles are being installed in all schools.
If a child is showing symptoms of COVID-19 they will be sent home and can return back to school once there is proof of a negative test. If the child returns with a positive test, the school will begin contact tracing and quarantine those who need to. Vaccinated students who have been exposed to COVID-19 but are asymptomatic will not be required to quarantine.
Students will be kept three feet apart in the buildings to follow social distancing protocols. Custodians will continue to clean door handles and flat surfaces many times throughout the school day. Teachers will be encouraged to have disinfecting wipes, disinfecting sprays and hand sanitizers in their classrooms. Children will be encouraged to wash their hands in between each activity throughout the school day. Shumate said if the numbers of COVID-19 infections do not rise through Labor Day then COVID protocols may begin to be lifted.
“We know how to keep school open, I believe, at this point. It just depends what the numbers look like in the community as to how we respond,” said Shumate.
There are 12,200 students in the school system and about half are under the age of 12 which makes them ineligible to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. Shumate believes approximately 15% of students that are eligible for the vaccines have been vaccinated however, he said it is hard to know for sure. He also said that no one has been required to get vaccinated as it is a personal choice but he believes about 50% of teachers have been vaccinated.
“We want to have school as normal as possible within reason,” said Shumate.
TCSS bought Chromebooks for every student and will be keeping the virtual option going into the new school year. Shumate wants to accommodate all learning styles and believes that virtual school is a concept that will not be going away. However, the child needs to prove to be successful in that model and if they are not, they will be highly encouraged to return to in-person learning.
The school system has not experienced any shortages of bus drivers but is looking to hire substitute drivers. They want to make sure no routes are interrupted if a driver is unavailable on a school day.
After school sports will continue on-time going into the school year and Shumate is hoping to continue that trend through the school year as long as the infection rates do not climb. Outdoor sports that allow students to social distance will not require masks. High contact areas like locker rooms will be constantly sanitized and fans will be allowed back in the stands.
“We want to get back to normal as best as possible. We know it’s good for kids’ social and emotional health. It’s good for all of us to be at work and to be in our normal groove,” said Shumate.
“We certainly want to get back to some rigorous instruction and make sure kids are learning at a very high level. Because of all the fears and all the things, we were just trying to have school last year,” said Shumate.