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September start-date gives Valdosta City Schools more time for COVID-19 planning

Posted at 7:07 PM, Jul 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-15 19:07:42-04

VALDOSTA, Ga. (WTXL) — We're learning more by the day about local district plans to reopen this fall, many of them delaying start dates due to COVID-19.

Within the last 24 hours, several school districts released updated school start dates.

Leon County is now starting August 19 and in Gadsden County, the board pushed back the start date to August 31.

The latest date set in our area comes from Valdosta City Schools. Students are not due back in the classroom until September 8.

Valdosta City Schools superintendent Todd Cason says while much of their preparation is complete, one of their biggest challenges will be enforcing social distancing.

They've already stocked up on hand sanitizers, thermometers, and social distancing decals and they're currently working to implement plans to assign seating on bus routes.

Another key use of the additional days before the start of school is the opportunity to finalize plans for responding to a student or staff member contracting the coronavirus.

"We have developed a digital learning handbook which allows us to be able to pivot from traditional to virtual," said Cason. "All teachers will be trained in Google classrooms and extending that start date gives us more time to prepare for that so we feel confident that will be able to pivot if we need to from traditional to virtual if that need arises."

Cason says they’re staggering classes to keep students and staff as safe as possible.

“For example, when kids change classes staggering the release of students so we don’t have as many kids in the hallways," said Cason. "Also, because of our virtual numbers were anticipating lower class sizes due to the number of kids and parents who selected virtual learning.”

So far, about 19 percent of district families have committed to virtual learning platforms.

Others like Ansley Panizzi say they’re confident the district will use the extra time to make sure children like her high school senior can reach this year’s educational milestones as safely as possible.

”We’ve kind of been able to watch to see what Valdosta city schools have done at the end of the school year as a pandemic was going on and I feel confident that she will be able to enjoy those milestones," said Panizzi. "Maybe not the traditional way like you and I know, but we’re hopeful that she can have her senior year and reach those milestones as they come.”

Others like Jataryia Thomas say they don’t think it’s safe for children to return, and that there should be stricter guidelines for PPE.

“We are required and have to wear masks in the stores," Thomas said. "Well, with the school system there is not a requirement, which I think is crazy.”

Still, Thomas says she plans to send her child back to brick and mortar to ensure the best possible educational experience.

”The events that kind of played out at the end of the last school term don’t really have any confidence that the virtual setting is going to give my, especially my daughter in middle school who has an IEP," said Thomas. "I don’t think she’s going to get what she needs academically based off of what the experience that we had at the end of last school year.”

Cason asks parents and teachers to remain flexible as they do their best to work through the ever-changing health requirements of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parents in Valdosta have until 6 p.m. on Thursday to select the virtual learning platform. If they do not, their students will be expected in class on Sept. 8.

The district employs about 700 teachers who will keep their original return date of July 30.