Tuscaloosa City Schools intends to uphold its plan to return to full in-person instruction starting next week but a few last-minute changes were just announced.

Students who opted to return to school once it was deemed safe by the school board will still begin a full return on Monday, Oct. 19, but TCS Superintendent Mike Daria announced this afternoon that the system will not return to a full week's instruction. According to a Friday afternoon press release, effective next week, TCS is switching to a four-day school week, in which "students will devote Fridays for virtual learning asynchronously."

Fridays will still be reserved for deep-cleaning classrooms and communal spaces. The release indicated that teachers will also be able to use those days to "plan and collaborate for effective teaching practices as well as connect with families on an as-needed basis."

"The demand this is placing on our educators is enormous," Daria said in the press release. "We are doing this to allow time for their planning and preparation. We worry that the demands on them will not be sustainable as they work to balance in-person teaching, virtual, and hybrid. This day is for them to work on planning so they can be sure to provide high-quality instruction when they are with your children."

 

This comes on the heels of Daria testing positive for COVID-19, which was made public yesterday. Though the superintendent affirms that he is feeling fine and is isolating at home, he has maintained throughout this school year that the coronavirus pandemic must be managed fluidly, with room for adjustments to school protocol as data changes.

The release mentioned that the school board worked with local medical experts to find the best solution for in-person learning and agrees with the need to remain adaptable when making big policy decisions such as this.

“The Board promised to be flexible during COVID, look out for the safety of all and listen to the needs of our educators. By moving to a four-day school week we feel that we have checked each of those boxes,” TCS Board chair Eric Wilson said in the release.

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Educators have voiced their concerns regarding the struggle to provide a high-quality learning experience for students concurrently in the classroom and online, and the TCS board expressed a "strong acknowledgment" of that strain and added that teachers "have been preparing for this moment for weeks."

"Teacher voice is an important part of the process for the system, just as the feedback from families has been crucial," the release read. "...This move was supported by not only TCS principals, but also the Board of Education which provided the superintendent the authority to set the educational model."

Hours after announcing his COVID-19 diagnosis, Daria held a virtual press conference to affirm his plans in opening back up next week. He expressed no anxieties about the change and praised TCS leaders for being able to carry out these changes without him.

"We're ready," Daria said in an article The Tuscaloosa Thread published yesterday. "I've got full confidence in the educators, faculty and staff in Tuscaloosa City Schools. They've got this, they know what to do, they know how to do it and they know how to make adjustments. They've got the ability to make those adjustments in real-time and look, that's what we're going to do through the course of this next phase, we're going to watch our numbers we're going to follow the ADPH guidelines."

As of 1:45 p.m. Friday, the TCS Real-Time COVID Tracker reads that 216 students (2.01% of the entire student body) and 96 employees (6.67% of all employees) are currently quarantined or isolated because of positive coronavirus tests or potential contact with a confirmed case. There are 22 active student positives and 18 active employee positives.

Daria acknowledged that this last-minute change is not ideal, but held that it is necessary and will be the most beneficial option for the overall success of the school year.

"While I recognize a shift at this date does pose an inconvenience to families, we must balance the well-being of our staff as we deliver instruction during a pandemic," Daria said.

This schedule will remain in effect through the end of the fall semester. Daria said the board will revisit and re-evaluate the schedule for the spring semester, depending on how the rest of this year goes.