TCSS Superintendent Dr. Brian Shumate reflects on first day back to school

Published 4:45 pm Monday, August 17, 2020

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The sound of school bells, desks moving and the distinct chatter of students could be heard all over the county Monday as Troup County Schools had its first day back in the classroom since March.

TCSS Superintendent Dr. Brian Shumate said the first day of school was a success.

“Buses and cars rolled up this morning, and we saw every single kid ready to go with masks on,” Shumate said. “I visited four schools, two elementary schools, a high school and the alternative school, Hope Academy. Kids were happy to be back. Staff was happy to be back.”

For the past-few months, principals and teachers have been preparing and going over new COVID-19 guidelines to be ready for the arrival of students.

“They have learned and implemented as much of a safety precaution guidelines as they can,” Shumate said.

Shumate said he wasn’t surprised when he saw students following the social distancing guidelines and wearing masks.

“We’ve had that word out for a while, and it’s just been an expectation,” Shumate said. “The kids started coming back last week to do meet the teacher and pick up their Chromebooks and came masked up and ready then. I talked to several principals, and they said they had several hundred kids coming into the building  … If they didn’t have [a mask], the principals provided one right there, and it was a non-issue.”

He noted that custodians are wiping down door handles constantly, students are spaced out during lunch times and that a lot of schools implemented one-way hallways and stairs.

“We’re trying to do social distancing as best we can,” Shumate said. “It’s not 100% foolproof, but we are doing everything we can.”

As of Monday, 32 percent of the school system is virtual, but Shumate said he expects that to change.

“This morning we had some parents that wanted to come back to face-to-face, and some wanted to go virtual last minute,” Shumate said. “Principals are working that out with them, and we’ll know what the numbers look like after getting into day two to see.”

In the case of a student becoming positive with COVID-19, TCSS expects to be able to trace the direct contact they had with others by using seating charts every day.

“All the basic protocols are going to be in place for the time being,” Shumate said. “Principals are still ironing out logistical details about how to change classes effectively and everything. Having 32 percent virtual helps relieve pressure. It’s just a matter of working out the logistics.”

Shumate said he was thankful that parents have partnered so well with the school system through all the changes and regulations.

“Many parents packed extra facemasks,” Shumate said. “A lot of the kids had their own hand sanitizer. It just looks like people wanted to send their kids with full preparation and probably coached them up pretty good on keeping their mask on.”

Shumate said teachers are implementing the virtual learning platform, Canvas, for in-person classes and using it as a visual guide for lessons, disperse material and more.

No visitors are being allowed in the school buildings unless they are school staff or maintenance crews.

“I really thanked the custodians, cafeteria and maintenance folks who’ve been working all summer to get these buildings ready,” Shumate said. “Everything was spick and span, shiny and ready to go.”

Shumate said TCSS has had cases among athletes and some staff over the last month, but there were no new cases identified as of yet on Monday.

“Now our biggest thing is how to navigate for if and when we have a positive case or cases of direct contact,” Shumate said. “That, unfortunately, is the way the world is right now, and it’s something we have to navigate through. If and when we have to make different decisions, we will.”

Shumate said he would have a Zoom call with all TCSS principals Monday evening to get a full breakdown of how the first day of school went.

“I walked away pretty impressed today,” Shumate said. “We have to trust these principals to run their buildings, and they know what’s going on. We have a basic set of protocols that we’ve been trained on and the district is supporting, but when it comes to the logistics of running a building we’ve got to let the principals figure out a lot of those details. They really have done a great job with that.”