Dr. Eric Mackey

Dr. Eric Mackey

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey held an hour-long press conference last Friday to announce the State’s Roadmap for Reopening Schools. But some parents, teachers and school administrators say they did not find the information provided very helpful.

Far from a plan that details specifics about the process for opening the State’s public schools, the “roadmap” leaves much of the planning in the hands of parents and local school boards, which Mackey acknowledges are likely to have a high degree of variance in how they deal with the likelihood that students returning to their campuses could spread Covid-19. In short the decision to send the students to a campus rests with parents, the responsibility to get campuses prepared will be on local school boards, and the instruction, be it on-campus or remote, will be the responsibility of teachers.

The roadmap itself is not a plan, Mackey said but, “Comprised of the essential actions designed to spur thinking, planning, and prioritization.”

Mackey’s press conference, where he was joined by State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, and the Roadmap itself opened with the caveat that the plan is not a legal proclamation or even a mandate by the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE).

Mackey said that a survey conducted of parents in Alabama found that about 1 in 5 families intended to keep their children at home for remote learning for the next school year. Mackey made it clear that even if that percentage goes up significantly, that every child will have the option to continue their coursework remotely if they choose not to attend school on campus. For those students who do not have the broadband internet or other technological resources at home to attend school remotely, he hopes that measures such as putting wi-fi access on school busses and using tablets as remote hotspots will be effective. Most parents responded to the survey by emphatically answering that they were ready for their children to return to school, although the rates varied by school district, Mackey said, from as low as 3% (who wanted to keep their children at home) in some districts up to 80% in others.

Will there be any football?

Mackey said that extracurricular activities including youth sports are planned to resume. The Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) is working with the ALSDE to determine best practices for youth sports. Mackey said at the very least that will include frequently changing out and sanitizing equipment and likely adding face shields were practicable. Additionally while some extracurricular activities can be practiced remotely, the nature of competitive team sports, choral programs and some others necessitate that if those activities take place the students will have to be able to hear, see and interact with one another.

So the answer to the question, ‘Will there be any football?’ according to Mackey is: Yes, maybe. If the school lawyers think it can be done safely. If parents and students want to do it and if coaches and players follow the guidance of the local school boards.

Parents are realizing that the desire to get ‘back to normal’ is going to come with a certain amount of risk.