Unless things change with the coronavirus pandemic, Athens City Schools will be accepting students for in-person schooling this fall.

ACS Director Dr. Melanie Miller made the announcement during Wednesday’s work session and the school board members voted unanimously to approve that plan in a following meeting.

Miller said system officials collaborated with people in McMinn County Schools, Etowah City School, regional systems and a local medical task force.

That plan, she noted, is being distributed to faculty and staff members with ACS on Friday and will be given out to parents by June 30.

However, she stressed that there could be changes made to it before school returns in August.

“There could be a lot of changes,” Miller said, asking the board members to allow “the Athens City Schools administrative team to make changes and report back. This is going to be fluid.”

As of now, she noted that classes will begin on Aug. 10 with all schools open, though classes will begin on a staggered schedule for the first two weeks.

While the exact specifics haven’t been decided on yet, Miller said she expects half of students to attend a certain number of days each of those two weeks and the other half of students to attend on the opposite days.

“We know that will be inconvenient for parents,” Miller said, adding that it’s nevertheless important to have the smaller groups early on. “We’re going to have to teach the kids to stay away from each other.”

Supervisor of Curriculum & Instruction/Assistant Director of Schools Melody Armstrong also stressed how important those first two weeks will be.

“We need to transition those students and employees back,” she said. “It gives us the ability to work with small groups, to work through those crucial parts of the plan.”

There will be a virtual option for parents and students who prefer not to physically attend, Miller noted.

“Anyone has the authority and the right to say ‘I don’t feel comfortable, I want to keep my child at home,’ and they will remain enrolled with ACS and we will educate them … virtually, remotely.”

Masks will be required for teachers when they’re around children, but masks will be optional for students.

Situations such as getting students lined up and working directly with students will require masks for teachers, while instructing from the front of the class won’t.

“We are taking every precaution we can take to keep our schools from being disrupted,” Miller said.

She noted that there are indications that the coronavirus is not spread as easily by children.

“Very few children in our area have been diagnosed with it,” Miller said.

There will be regular temperature checks for students, though there are still questions as to when the checks will happen — in the car as the student is being dropped off and/or as students get on the bus are possibilities.

“Those are things we’ll continue to tweak, we’ve still got to work through some details,” she said.

She added that parents will be asked to check their child’s temperature each morning before getting on the bus or being dropped off at school to help avoid issues where a student has a fever and the parent is not able to come back and pick them up.

“We would still check temperatures, but it would save parents headaches,” she said.

Precautions will be taken inside the school buildings as well, as, for example, Miller noted that water fountains will be closed during the school year and officials are currently looking at touchless water filling stations and water bottles.

Incoming Director of Schools Robert Greene, who has been involved in this process, noted that getting ready for a school year under the shadow of the coronavirus has been unique.

“We’ve been through all these scenarios to try to make this work,” he said. “This is the toughest thing I’ve ever been in.”

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