Wiregrass superintendents discuss dealing with COVID-19 Part 1

Wiregrass superintendents discuss dealing with COVID-19
Wiregrass superintendents discuss dealing with COVID-19(Source: WTVY)
Published: Mar. 12, 2021 at 9:55 AM CST
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March 13th the first case of COVID-19 hit the state of Alabama as the virus inched closer and closer to home, it caused concerns for Wiregrass schools.

“There was a couple month period there where I probably think everybody here was experienced some sort of loss of loved ones as a result of that. It really came back to home, I know for us it did or for me it did as far as how serious the virus situation was,” Dr. Dennis Coe, Dothan City Schools, superintendent said.

Due to the growing threat of COVID-19, Governor Ivey issued a state of emergency forcing all public K-12 schools to close.

“When we received the order that we were to shut down schools, I think we all thought it was going to be a minor inconvenience in our lives, that we’d be back in school in a couple of weeks and life would go on. Then as the days and weeks went along it became apparent that this was going to be a long haul issue that we had to get through the rest of the spring, then planning for the summer and starting a whole new school year under some very difficult circumstances,” Rick McInturf, Ozark City Schools, superintendent said.

But for rural schools, closing their doors was more difficult than anyone could imagine.

“We have areas where internet is just not available in some of our areas in Henry County and so that was a what’re we going to do if they chose to go virtual for this year. When we started last year we sent out packets but it was still not the same as having the face to face that you get on a day to day basis,” Lori Beasley, Henry County Schools, superintendent said.

The state leaving many decisions up to the local schools based on how COVID-19 numbers looked in their area.

“There was no way for the state or anybody to prescribe a specific method because each one of us found pretty quickly that each community, and each school district is unique and so that was probably a big challenge because it was hard for us to kind of rely on each other because each of our situations were different,” Coe said.

Even a year devoted to making memories was cut short.

“But I look at last year especially those seniors that missed their prom, they missed their senior year of baseball, softball and some of those were predicted to have a run in the state championship and those are things they cant get back, that we all look back at our high school careers and those were those memorable moments that he said we cant get those back,” Brandy White, Houston County Schools, superintendent said.

School leaders forced to come up with ways to celebrate the seniors but in a safe environment.

“Some of us were fortunate to have huge football stadiums and we were able to distance the kids in the stadium, distance the parents in the stadium and have what turned out to be in Ozark to be a memorable and very nice event that we may just keep,” McInturf said.

There wasn’t a solution to every problem, with each superintendent seeing a loss in learning due to the pandemic.

“Although we are doing the best that we can, we are trying to give other avenues with virtual but you’re still not you do not have that face to face teacher so there is a learning loss and I think that’s statewide. We have seen students that have come back that were virtual to begin with and when they came back they were at a loss,” Beasley said.

Students aren’t the only suffering.....

“This has had a tremendous social and emotional impact on our adults, we can’t get together as family, we can’t gather together as friends, we can’t gather together as faculty so we’re seeing a lot emotional needs from our teachers and staff. Most of our folks, the good quality people we all have got into education cause it was a calling, we love children. You take a good kindergarten teacher that’s going to love and nurture on those little babies, we cant do that so not only are the children missing that connection and interaction but adults are too,” Coe said.

Even at their worst, teachers and staff still showed up to work everyday, ready to overcome the challenges of COVID-19

“You had other areas that the teachers were on strike, you had unions that were trying to back them as far as they didn’t want to return back to school. I’m proud of our area in Southeast Alabama, we didn’t have that, I don’t think any of our systems dealt with that at all. We had educators trying to figure out a way to work and they wanted to come back to school and they wanted their children back in school,” White said.

Including school nurses, tasked with one of the most important jobs during the pandemic.

“I lean to our nurses because I’m not a healthcare professional and they are so I lean on their guidance and their expertise,” Beasley said.

“They’re the ones in our case that usually made that call to the family that says your child’s been exposed, w’re dealing with 14 days and then later on 10 days of quarantine and that’s a tough call to make. Your child’s not sick but he has to quarantine for the next 10 to 14 days, that’s a tough call and they did it so well,” McInturf said.

Looking back with the information school leaders have now, things would be a lot different.

“I think if we go back a year ago and if we had know what we know now, I don’t think we would have closed schools at that time. I think we would have continued that school year because we’ve had some cases but those cases have not spread throughout the students like it has with adults,” White said.

Copyright 2021 WTVY. All rights reserved.

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