With only one month left before students in Tuscaloosa City Schools return to class, many parents might be asking how things will be different than the partially virtual, socially-distanced academic year the COVID-19 pandemic brought on in 2020.

This week, superintendent Mike Daria and a system spokesperson told the Tuscaloosa Thread the goal will be to just get 'back to normal' when classes resume in August.

Below are six major takeaways about what parents and students will be seeing shortly:

  1. The use of masks and other face coverings will be optional for all students.
  2. Students will be back to in-person learning five days a week.
  3. The virtual learning option that was available for all students K-12 will now only be available for high schoolers.
  4. Any social distancing measures will adhere to the latest guidelines issued by the Alabama Department of Health.
  5. TCS will not be managing any COVID-19 contact tracing. Any contact tracing will be handled by the ADPH, as will any decision on whether a student is required to quarantine or not.
  6. No re-entry testing will be required for students at TCS and proof of vaccination will not be required before students return to classrooms.
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Lesley Bruinton, the Director of Public Relations for TCS, explained that the majority of these decisions were made based on precedent within the school system. Existing virtual learning options won't be available because the virtual option had been reserved for high schoolers prior to the pandemic.

"We allowed families to select whether they wanted to go virtual last year, and that was for any grade," Bruinton said. "Going 'back to normal,' those virtual opportunities will only be available to high schoolers again."

Despite these relaxed policies, Superintendent Mike Daria still encouraged families, students and faculty to practice health and safety measures.

In an exclusive interview with The Tuscaloosa Thread, Daria looked back over the past year and remembered some of the school system's biggest successes during a difficult year.

"It was certainly one of the most complex years in education we've ever had," Daria said. "Out of that adversity came a lot of accomplishments. You see a certain tenacity in our school system to keep going and keep adapting. That gives me confidence for the year ahead."

Daria said they now more than ever, TCS is prepared to handle even the most drastic shifts in educational models. He believes TCS is "structurally braced to pivot" its learning models if the need for virtual learning arises again.

"We have skillsets and strengths that we didn't have this same time a year ago," Daria said. "If we run into a variant and it poses a similar threat, we have a dedicated team of nurses that's connected to DCH so we can get information in real-time. That allows us to be proactive and responsive in our decision making."

The regular sanitation practices implemented during the pandemic are here to stay, he said, and TCS staff will continue to regularly deep clean and sterilize school buildings.

Daria said faculty and staff should implement whatever safety measures they deem appropriate for themselves and that PPE and other safety precautions might vary per classroom.

"Safety, health and security for all students and staff remains a priority for Tuscaloosa City Schools this year," Daria said. "It's going to be an outstanding year. Educators are ready to have students back in classrooms and we're ready to resume instruction in a way that's as 'back to normal' as possible."

For information on return-to-school plans for the Tuscaloosa County School System, click here. 

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