The Tuscaloosa City Schools system will switch to virtual-only instruction for the last week of the fall semester, starting on December 14th, and will return to school in January in a temporary staggered model.

In a special-called board meeting Thursday afternoon, TCS Superintendent Mike Daria said the changes are in response to a sharp rise in new confirmed COVID-19 cases among students and faculty and the periods of quarantine and isolation those new cases require.

Daria said prior to Thanksgiving, 1,164 total students in the school system had been quarantined or isolated after possible exposure to COVID-19 and 85 students had tested positive for the virus.

 

As of Thursday, less than a week after returning to classrooms after the Thanksgiving break, 557 students were in quarantine or isolated and 41 students had active cases -- numbers that took several weeks to reach earlier in the semester.

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Daria said all TCS schools will return to classrooms as normal this Monday then switch to the virtual-only format the following week. He said allowing students to return to school in-person next week will give parents and teachers time to prepare for the transition to virtual learning the following week, but also give the school board a chance to study the impact of students returning to face-to-face instruction.

"If we get into next week and see that we need to make a different decision, that's what we've agreed on in this plan," Daria said. "We'd make a different decision, whether it's school by school or we look at a whole district."

TCS students will then return to class as scheduled on January 5th, but will do so in a staggered system for two weeks. On January 19th, all in-person students would be back in classrooms four days a week as they are now, Daria said.

"Our goal is to remain in school for in-person instruction," Daria said. "These adjustments, while we understand may provide a challenge, we feel are necessary to address the circumstances we are anticipating in the next two weeks and assist us in getting back to full-time instruction in January and stay in-person throughout the rest of the year."

The school board also voted to waive requirements for end-of-semester exams for its high school students, who can instead opt to complete assignments prepared by their teachers to achieve further mastery of the subject material or boost their grades.

Watch the full board meeting below.

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