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State will publish K-12 school COVID-19 cases soon

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama will soon start publishing data on new cases of COVID-19 in K-12 public schools, State Superintendent Eric Mackey said Thursday.

Mackey did not say exactly when that data will be published, but said once it’s available it would be updated weekly.

“Even though we’ve had very few students who have had serious complications or even symptoms, we feel like we need to let parents know when and if a certain part of the state or a certain school system (has) positive cases,” Mackey said.

The Alabama Department of Public Health will be creating the website where case numbers will be published, Mackey said. The information won’t specify if the cases are in teachers or students.

Mackey said so far he has not heard reports of a large number of teachers testing positive for COVID-19 in the state and has asked schools to report if large outbreaks do appear.

Pike Road High School and Pike Road Junior High School near Montgomery said six students tested positive for COVID-19 this week resulting in 63 students having to be placed into quarantine, WSFA reported.

Mackey said the situation in Pike Road schools was expected given that in high school and middle school students move around in schools more than elementary students do.

“One positive case in an elementary school class might lead to a couple of cases, but the same positive case in a high school might lead to a dozen more,” Mackey said.

Most of the state’s largest school districts started school virtually this year but many are now saying they will move to in-person instruction by November.

Mackey said most of the concerns with virtual learning relate to students having proper internet access and connectivity.

According to a recent survey by the Alabama State Department of Education and the University of Alabama’s College of Education, 65% of parents said they planned to send their children back to school, while 35% said they did not plan to send their children back to in-person classes. The main reason listed for why parents wouldn’t send their child back to school was COVID-19 and related health issues.

Eighty-one percent of respondents said they had high-speed internet access where they lived compared to 15% who said they did not. Smart phones were the most frequent personal device listed by respondents having in their homes, followed by laptops and tablets.

Only 33% of parents said their children were learning at home as well as if they were still attending school.

Among those parents who were not planning to send their children to school, 58% reported their children’s learning was the same as if they were in school, compared to only 20% of parents who planned to send their children to school.

The most common reason parents gave for feeling like their children did not learn as much as they would in person was related to “teachers.”

Mackey said more surveys will be sent to parents later in the year and focus on virtual learning and technology capabilities. A state program that offers vouchers to Alabama families to help pay for the cost of equipment and high-speed internet service through Dec. 31. is being well utilized, Mackey said.

Students who receive free or reduced lunches, or who meet other income criteria, are eligible to receive the vouchers and the funding was made possible through a $100 million allocation from the state’s CARES Act money.

Gov. Kay Ivey said she appreciated Mackey’s and the state department’s work on getting children back to school this fall and that she encourages all families to consider going back into schools as soon as they’re ready.

“There are a lot of benefits for a child to be in school rather than remote learning, so I would encourage parents to take a deep breath and do all the social protocols to support your children but encourage them to be in school,” Ivey said.

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