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Pike County to return pre-K, kindergarten students

Pike County Schools will begin a phased-in return to traditional classroom settings on Nov. 2 .

“We’re going to begin the process of what I hope will be a phased in return to school for pre-K through sixth grade,” said Dr. Mark Bazzell, superintendent.

The first phase, which begins Nov. 2, will include the return of 71 pre-K and kindergarten students at Goshen, Pike County and Banks elementary schools.

“If all goes well, two weeks after that we’ll bring back the first and second grade students,” he said, adding that will bring another 101 students back to campuses.

Bazzell said the 161 third-graders participating in virtual education could return before Thanksgiving or afterwards, depending on how the process flows. “We hope to have all the students through sixth grade returned to traditional classrooms before the Christmas break.”

The district will address a timetable for returning students in grades 7-12 after the break.

Bazzell said approximately 1,300 of the students 2,300 students have been attending virtually since the start of the 2020-2021 school year, due to concerns over the COVID-19 situation. Bazzell said while faculty and staff have done an outstanding job in providing virtual learning, he believes students will benefit from a more traditional classroom setting, particularly in the younger grades.

“There is no substitute at the early childhood level for face-to-face instruction, especially when it comes to reading comprehension and literacy,” Bazzell said.

Returning children to the classrooms will provide a more responsive platform for teaching critical reading skills “If we can do this safely, and we believe we can, then this is something we need to do,” he said.

The district gave parents the option of choosing virtual instruction or traditional on-campus instruction for their students at the beginning of the school year. Bazzell said on Monday the district has a lengthy waiting list of parents who want to switch from the virtual to traditional platforms, for a variety of reasons.

“For the most part, the virtual instruction has gone well,” he said. “And as of right now, the number of students needing to be quarantined or having tested positive is substantially lower than it has been since we started.”

As of Tuesday, the district reported 22 students quarantined, including 17 who came in contact with a positive case or presented symptoms and five who tested positive. Six faculty and staff were being quarantined, two from positive tests and four from contact or symptoms.

“Based on the pattern we’re seeing, all of the cases are arising from situations outside the schools,”  Bazzell said. “It’s people coming in contact with a family member or another person who has tested positive.

“As far as I know, we haven’t had a single case of two positive students in the same room.”

The Alabama Department of Public Health also shifted Pike County’s threat level to low on Friday, indicating a declining rate of spread in the county. If those trends continue, Bazzell said he believes the school district can safely and incrementally return students.

“”We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think we could do it safely,” he said.  “We want a return to school for all grade levels, but it’s not as simple as brining a large group of students back.”

The district is implementing guidelines for additional testing and screening, reassigning teachers from virtual to traditional classrooms, and addressing logistics involved with the additional students on campus.

“This is a fluid situation,” he said.

Bazzell said school officials will contact parents of all pre-K and kindergarten virtual students to review the return to class procedures and address such issues as bus transportation during the next two weeks.  “This is subject to change, and we want to make sure every step of the way we’re monitoring the safety of our students and our faculty and staff.”