Opelika City Schools’ superintendent talks fall plans

Updated: Jun. 29, 2020 at 7:53 PM EDT
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OPELIKA, Ala. (WTVM) - As community leaders and residents across East Alabama continue watching COVID-19 numbers, school districts are gearing up for in-person instruction expected to begin in a few months.

According to the state superintendent, the upcoming school year in Alabama will be like no other. The superintendent of Opelika City Schools, Dr. Mark Neighbors, agreed.

“It’s like reading tea leaves,” Dr. Neighbors said. “Every time you look, someone stirs your tea leaves.”

Alabama’s state superintendent announced Friday they plan for schools to start back this fall.

For Opelika City Schools, Neighbors said, for now, the start date is August. 5.

“Our philosophy is face to face,” he said. “We want to start as early as we can with safety measures to get as much instruction as we can, knowing that at some point, more than likely we’ll be going home.”

According to Neighbors, a number of parents have already shared their children will not be returning come August, instead utilizing a full-time online curriculum provided by the state.

“This is not going to be your regular teacher teaching your students online,” Neighbors said. “This will be different. But it’s really, from what we understand, a self-paced, kind of like home schooling with video and different support structures.”

He said the district is gearing up now to make the most of face-to-face time for those students who do return to school, focusing on core academic courses and providing safe ways for students to exercise and socialize.

“There’s a tremendous amount of energy being put into students safety,” Neighbors said. “But also knowing that online instruction does not take the place of direct instruction with a teacher, and that’s something we’ve learned from our parents and comments and different places.”

Ultimately, Neighbors said he’s asking parents for some flexibility and trust.

“We’re balancing the academic needs, social and mental needs of the children and obviously their physical needs,” he said. “We’re going to do the best we can.”

Neighbors said they’re also working on ways that teachers can supplement the state’s online curriculum if all students do have go back to online instruction. He said they’ll be incorporating things like videos, direct instruction, and more.

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