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School leaders discuss safety measures

School leaders from around the community came together Thursday for a roundtable to discuss the 2020-2021 school year.

The City of LaGrange hosted the virtual roundtable via the LaGrange Television Facebook page. The roundtable included LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton, Troup County Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Shumate, Troup County Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Penny Johnson, LaGrange High School Principal Alton White, Callaway Middle School Principal Amy Thornton, Long Cane Elementary School Principal Katie Brown, Lafayette Christian School Head of School Rene Gomez and LaGrange Academy Head of School Brian Dolinger.

TCSS is starting back to school Aug. 17, LaGrange Academy is starting back Aug. 12 and Lafayette Christian is going back to school Aug. 10.

TCSS announced its back-to-school plan last week in an 18-page document. Students are given two options — traditional school or the TCSS Virtual Academy. The deadline for selecting the virtual academy was Friday, though students can swap from traditional to virtual at any moment if they no longer feel comfortable in a classroom setting.

Shumate said that there was a rumor going around earlier this week that the beginning of the school year was going to get pushed back to Sept. 8 statewide, but that it was proven to not be true.

The TCSS principals said they are ready to see their students for the first time in March.

“I can tell you with all the plans that we have in place, our buildings are going to be in tip-top shape. There’s going to be cleaning done constantly,” Amy Thornton said. “We are working on logistics to where students won’t be mixing a lot like they used to. That’s a little more difficult in middle and high school but in elementary we’re going to try our best to keep our students in cohorts.”

All of the schools also discussed how they would handle positive cases.

“The variables are so numerous so it’s very difficult to try to figure out every single if-then scenario,” Dolinger said.

“But we are working in the same way with the guidelines that are present. I’m working closely with members of our medical professional community … to try to come up with, what are the very clear guidelines of how we deal with a student that has exposure or might have a positive test case on campus. We’re going to have to work those case-by-case as everything continues to evolve and figure out the best way to move forward with it.”

Gomez said LCS would also adjust based on all the factors involved, with a three-phase plan in place. The final phase would be to go 100 percent virtual learning, if its needed.

Shumate said TCSS is preparing every teacher on how to use the virtual learning system, just in case a system-wide COVID-19 outbreak forced the system to send every student home to learn.

Both TCSS and LaGrange Academy have made face coverings mandatory. If students or faculty members have a reason they can’t wear a face mask, then face shields will be available. Gomez said face coverings are highly recommended for students and are required for teachers at Lafayette Christian.

“We’re going to have to get acclimated to that anything new, with our elementary babies we’re going to treat it just like we would anything else with love, with patience, and with understanding that this is new,” Brown said.

Amy Thornton said she is ready for the challenges that come with trying to get middle school students to wear masks.

“We’re going to rise to the challenge. We’re going to do this because it’s the best thing,” she said.

White said he has spoken with Callaway Principal Jonathan Laney and Troup High Principal Niki Watts to ensure they are all on the same page and consistent in their enforcement of mask wearing.

“I think mainly we’ve just got to get everybody to understand why,” White said. “And try to make sure that they’re, they’re on board with it, and we’ll be okay.”