State of emergency, thermal imaging cameras to be discussed by Dothan City Schools Board of Education

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DOTHAN, Ala. (WDHN) — The Dothan City School Board will be considering a potential state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic at Monday’s special called meeting.

Under such an emergency, this would allow contracts to “let to the extent necessary to meet the emergency without public advertisement,” although the actions and their reasons will be publicized by the “awarding authority.”

The school system is also considering allocating $402,500 for a bid on 23 pieces of temperature scanning equipment from Harris Security Systems. These will be placed in the entrances of all the schools in the districts.

The machines would work by scanning the faces of 45 people at a time, identifying those who have a fever. This could help catch virus carriers.

One camera system will be placed at every school except Dothan High School and Dothan Prepatory Academy, which will have four. These will be paid for by the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

Aside from these potential actions, DCS has already ordered almost a million dollars in extra Chromebooks and related technology for parents to use for virtual education, according to a report by Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Edwards. Over 250 teachers are also being trained on virtual instruction.

A test day is planned for next week to allow students and parents to get on the virtual platform.

Edwards wrote that classroom sizes are still being worked on, with classes in elementary schools being as low as 13 to 15 students.

“We had a waiting list of people wanting virtual education but who did not sign up on time,” her report states. “We put those in the virtual line-up last week. However, while we want to accommodate everyone, we must stop at this point because we need to give the teachers their listing and we do not have any more virtual teachers.  We have hired all the extra people that we can.”

“Even if a teacher is virtual in delivering instruction, we cannot allow unlimited number of students on the rosters because we expect that teachers will teach and reteach and will give grades. Please know that we allowed a very long time for sign ups and we put the information out through video messaging and on our website.”

As for secondary education, one-third of the student body will not be in school for instruction. DCS purchased Edgenuity for instruction, and while other school systems have only had problems with state-funded courses, DCS is still concerned about how to offer electives.

“Again, we have offered choice in that parents can allow the child to come on campus for the elective or we can offer a limited number of virtual elective courses,” Edwards wrote.

School transportation is ready as drivers will have their temperature checked and will have hand sanitizer on the buses. Some drivers are out as they are quarantined, which has caused some concern with staffing if teachers or drivers need to go home for an extended amount of time.

To remedy this, the system has hired two full-time substitutes for every school in case someone calls out sick.

“This is very expensive but one of the only ways we know to combat this concern,” Edwards wrote.

As for student dining, there will be outdoor seating for both Dothan Prep and Dothan High, with the tables and umbrellas expected to arrive next week. Cafeterias will be prepared to feed students in classrooms and small numbers in the cafeteria itself.

Scanning cards will also be provided to keep students from touching keypads, and virtual students wil be able to get lunch at certain sites, which Child Nurtrition is still working on.

With regards to some controversy over sports or band cancellations, Edwards has this to say:

I am sure that you are receiving unhappy comments from some who do not feel we should cancel any sports, games or band events.  I am making every effort to review decisions with our head nurse, Mrs. James, and she is speaking to the Health Department before we make a call.

To be clear, there are many other systems that have delayed games or postponed activities.  Just a few to mention; Russell County delays fall sports until after September 4th; Barbour County- all sports shut down including spring sports; Beulah- shut down for three weeks, Pike County and Goshen will only play regional games for football and area games for softball;  Greene and Sumter shut down sports for the first 9 weeks. Southern Choctaw and Choctaw City shut down for first 9 weeks; Vestavia Hills cancelled first 2 games; Blount to resume September 4th.

Our Public Information Officer is creating a “Dashboard” to keep up with the numbers of staff and students affected and so we might continue to be transparent with the community.  Naturally, we do not provide any names or other information- just numbers.

The system held a “testing opportunity” on Saturday for our employees.  We will do this every month through November 2020.

To repeat our actions regarding the offering of honors classes at DPA; since only one side of the story continues to be aired; there was a public discussion of the changes to the math course offerings and the existing problems with courses previously labeled, “honors”.  Math courses are not called honors but there are advanced math courses and 7th and 8th grade students are being placed in these courses.  We will also provide English/Language Arts advanced course(s) and place students within these courses based on the last reliable data we have- remember that testing was cancelled by the state.  We have allowed parents that want virtual to have an additional week to sign up.  We will also test for LINC, if parents feel that their children were not tested.   During the first 9 weeks, we will review and create advanced course criteria and bring that back to the Board and disseminate the information to parents.  Finally, there was no attempt at cover-up; just the closing of school in March and the focus on COVID related issues.  As with any other concern that is raised, our effort is to hear out the problem and see how it can be addressed.  That is exactly what was done over a weekend in a very timely manner.

This week, we are hiring more nurses (at least 4) and the Health Liaison position.  We have hired an Elementary Virtual Coordinator and Secondary Virtual Coordinator to oversee the massive virtual program – now over 2800 students.  We are also hiring a Mental Health Coordinator with a grant received from the state and pairing that with other federal funds.

Dothan City Schools has worked very hard to be creative and specific in offering choice and options.  Principals, Directors and so many others have worked tirelessly to deliver quality programs and experience during this difficult time.

Dr. Phyllis Edwards

As of this report, school is expected to start back up for students on Sept. 8.

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