The Tuscaloosa City Schools system will delay its full-time return to in-person instruction one week to October 19, a spokesperson announced Wednesday morning.

Superintendent Mike Daria pitched the idea at Tuesday night's regular TCS Board meeting and said he would make a final decision by Wednesday after consulting with local health experts.

As cases in the Tuscaloosa area continue to rise and the DCH Health System is treating its highest number of COVID patients since mid-August, Daria said delaying the full-time return will allow the school system to better prepare to host all of its 11,000 students at once.

"When we go back to five days, the social distancing -- we won't be able to accomplish that in classrooms,"  Daria said to the Board. "This gives us additional time to have a conversation as a board, and then certainly with the health professionals in town."

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Daria said he is considering input from local health officials, the Alabama Department of Public Health, school staff and student absence rates and advice from City representatives. He said school administrators will seek to minimize the spread of COVID-19 by continuing to mandate good hygiene practices, requiring face coverings at all times and practicing social distancing to every extent possible, but he also acknowledged that TCS can't necessarily ensure total compliance to those standards at all times.

"I'd love to be able to say 'we said October 12th, let's stick to it no matter what,' but I want to do it like we've done it along the way -- cautiously," Daria said.

According to the school system's COVID-19 Tracker, 28 students and 15 teachers have tested positive for the coronavirus for far this year, and hundreds more have been quarantined after possible exposure to positive cases.

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