Private schools plan re-openings in August


FOLEY, Alabama — As with Baldwin County’s public schools, private schools throughout the county are planning to re-open in August with some schools planning for on-campus learning while others will give students a choice between on-campus and virtual learning options.

According to a video statement issued June 26 by Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi Catholic schools in Mobile and Baldwin counties will open as originally scheduled on Aug. 12.

In addition to Mobile County, the Archdiocese of Mobile oversees St. Michael’s Catholic High School in Fairhope and three feeder schools in Baldwin County, Christ the King School in Daphne, St. Patrick’s in Robertsdale and St. Benedict’s in Elberta.

While each school will have its own plan, according to Rodi’s statement, steps will be taken at each school, including:

-- Schools will limit interpersonal contact to the extend that is feasible and practical.

-- Every student and every employee upon arrival at the school will have their temperature taken. Anyone who has a fever greater than 100.4 degrees will not be allowed to enter the school.

-- All schools will have enhanced cleaning procedures and sanitizer will be readily available throughout the school.

-- Traditional recess will be discontinued, and other activities will be developed to take the place of recess.

-- Students will eat lunch in their classrooms.

-- With the exception of pre-K students, everyone will wear a mask while at school.

-- School activities and other extracurricular activities will continue but will be conducted in a manner that is appropriate in dealing with COVID-19.

In a letter to parents, students and faculty dated July 17, St. Michael’s Catholic High Principal Faustin Weber released a “draft plan” for the re-opening of schools. A statement on the school’s website states that a final plan would be released Aug. 7.

The seven-page document lays out plans for three different modes of learning, stating that it is possible that the school will utilize each of these modes at different times of the year.

In a phone interview, Weber said, in addition to offering traditional classroom learning and distance learning, which is a separate curriculum with different instructors, the school will be providing an option for students called concurrent classrooms.

“Students who are unable or who do not feel comfortable in a classroom setting can ‘sit in’ on actual classes at St. Michael’s,” Weber said. “These students will have the same instructors and the same schedule as their fellow students, so instead of having a different instructor, if they log in during third period, they will have the same third period instructor as those students in the classroom.”

Weber said St. Michael’s had not seen any changes in their enrollment due to the coronavirus.

“Most of our parents had already enrolled students in March before this all began,” he said. “We’ve seen a few come in and we’ve had a few withdraw, but overall our enrollment has stayed the same.”

Weber said the 2020-21 school year will bring some obvious challenges, but commended the students, parents and teachers for working together.

“These students deserve to be together and to keep them separate over the course of, hopefully it won’t be a full year, but what could be a full year, is definitely going to be a real challenge,” he said. “We just have to all be in this together and we’re going to get through it together. It’s going to be a memorable year.

“We just have to pray for all of our first responders who are taking care of patients, all of those who are working on a cure and all of our leaders to keep everything going.”

In a statement issued to students and parents on July 24, Dr. Timothy Dernlan, head of school at Bayshore Christian School in Fairhope stated that the school is planning to welcome students, teachers and staff for on campus and in person instruction on Aug. 13.

“We are really looking forward to getting our students back on campus,” Dernlan said in a phone interview. “It’s been five months since our students have been in school. We’ve made a lot of changes and we’re taking every precaution to ensure their health and safety.”

Students will not be given an option between in-class learning and virtual school, according to the letter, but the school could return to some form of distance learning should the need arise.

Dernlan said enrollment at the school has actually increased slightly with a total projected enrollment of 470 students heading into the 2020-21 school year as opposed to a final enrollment of 437 at the end of last year.

While the letter states they cannot guarantee that students attending school will not be exposed to COVID-19, the school has increased cleaning measures, adjustments have been made to the daily schedule to reduce large group gathers and non-essential school visitors will not be permitted on campus.

Student desks and tables will be separated from each other as much as possible to allow for increased physical distancing. Teachers will also alter lesson plans to reduce the opportunity for physical contact amongst students.

There will also be an increased cleaning custodial staff and teachers will use disinfectant supplies to sanitize classrooms at the end of each day.

Masks/face coverings for students, staff and visitors will be “highly recommended” but not required and must adhere to strict guidelines, according to the letter.

Several events traditionally held each year have been canceled to eliminate large social gatherings, according to the letter. Weekly times for worship have been divided into four smaller gatherings rather than the typical two groups. Lunch and recess schedules have been planned for smaller gatherings and increased opportunity for physical distancing.

“It’s going to be a big challenge, but we’re doing the best we can to face it together as a family,” Dernlan said, adding in his letter, “We can and will have a great year if we are all patient with each other, empathetic toward each other, and work together for the Good of our children and the glory of God!”

Snook Christian Academy in Foley is planning to open on Aug. 12 as scheduled for students in K3 through 12th grade.

“I think everyone here is looking forward to trying to return to some sense of normalcy and we will do whatever we can to ensure, not only the physical health, but also to provide for the mental health of our students,” said Monica Butts, head of lower schools at Snook Christian and wife of School President Thad Butts.

Students and parents will have a choice between on campus learning and distance learning to ensure that all enrolled students receive a quality education and they don’t have to be on campus,” she said.

“On campus we are taking every precaution to ensure a safe environment for our students, including disinfection all areas and social distancing in the classroom and other areas of campus,” she said. “We are monitoring CDC guidelines and will do whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of our students.”

Snook averages between 300 and 330 students in grades K3-12 and enrollment for the 2020-21 school year is about the same as in the past, Butts said. Snook also does not provide transportation for its students.

In a statement issued July 15, Head of School Michael Papa stated that Bayside Academy in Daphne continues to plan on a return to campus on Aug. 19.

“It is time for the bluff to again resonate with the joy and laughter of students,” according to Papa’s letter. “Our facilities are ready, our teachers are eager and we are all anxious to reunite the Bayside community.”

A variety of strategies will be utilized to ensure the “health and safety of our community,” according to the statement.

Morning arrival measures will include infrared temperature readings prior to entry, hand sanitizer stations and face coverings.

Measures will be employed to reduce density and incorporate social distancing conducive to teaching and learning.

Large gatherings (including lunch, assemblies and athletic competitions), will take into account social distancing restricts.

The letter provides a link to Bayside’s “four operating modes,” which include:

-- Green Mode, or the “new normal” mode in which Bayside cautiously proceeds with most aspects of normal school operation with some limitations for the health and safety of students. This mode would be primarily on campus, in classroom learning.

-- Yellow Mode employs multiple social distancing strategies to limit transmission risks by increasing physical space between students and limiting interactions in large group settings. Classes would meet in person with limited group sizes and moderate social distancing.

-- Orange Mode, which reduces the total number of people who can be in a given area on campus at any time to maximize social distancing and minimize the mixing of student groups. This mode would provide for on campus learning modified to accommodate high physical distancing, with the possibility of some classes being moved to virtual learning to reduce student movement.

-- Red Mode requires shelter-in-place virtual learning and will only be employed if there is no other recourse and/or mandated by law. Classes would be moved to virtual learning only.

“We have and will continue to use guidance from the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics and ADPH, as well as Bayside’s Medical Advisory Task Force, to determine under which mode we will reopen,” according to the statement. “The operating mode we employ will be based upon the prevalence of COVID in our community.”

Papa added that the school will do all that it can to sustain on-campus teaching and learning within a framework that makes every effort to protect the physical health and safety of students, teachers and staff members.

“Our goal is to preserve the essence of the Bayside experience while taking prudent measures to protect the community wellbeing,” according to the statement. “We remain committed to doing all we can to provide a safe environment.”

However, the letter acknowledged that there is an inherent risk of exposure to coronavirus and the school will offer a fully virtual option to students in grades 2 through 12 for families who have a “unique health circumstance.”

“Our division heads and our faculty are working tirelessly to develop comprehensive strategies for all levels of operation,” according to the statement. “Thank you for the trust you put in Bayside Academy. We are doing everything we can to provide a safe haven of learning for your children, but ultimately, it will take all of us to make that happen.”

Athletics for St. Michael’s, Bayside and Bayshore Christian fall under Alabama High School Athletic Association guidelines. Snook Christian operates under Alabama Independent School Association guidelines for athletics.

Repeated attempts to reach someone by phone at Bayside Academy were unsuccessful. Attempts to reach Tim Shelton, school administrator at Central Christian School in Robertsdale, were also unsuccessful.

According to the school’s website, the first day of school for the 2020-21 school year at Central Christian is scheduled for Aug. 17.