Students return to Dalton Public Schools buildings for summer school

Emily Martin/Dalton Public Schools

Children in Dalton Public Schools' summer program for rising prekindergartners engage in a lesson on June 23 at City Park School. Dalton Public Schools has made numerous adjustments to procedures and processes this summer due to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

While much of the focus has been on how students might return to schools in August for the 2020-21 academic term, Dalton Public Schools already has students in its buildings for summer school.

Summer school for high school students began on June 1, and it's primarily for "credit recovery," said Jennifer Phinney, a director of school support for Dalton Public Schools. After the first week, there were 36 ELL (English Language Learners) enrolled, part of the Newcomer Academy, and 91 other students.

That number of 127 students is "in line" with prior summers, so fears of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) don't appear to be keeping students away, Phinney said, noting, "We're pleased."

Students come to school in shifts, either on Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday, she said. "Students are much more successful if they come in person and receive direct instruction."

Summer school also functions as "practice" for Dalton Public Schools for the fall term, she said. High school summer school concludes on July 16.

At this time, Dalton Public Schools is aiming to "come back as best we can traditionally, as long as everyone is safe," said Superintendent Tim Scott, adding, "Safety is number one."

For younger students, prekindergarten through middle school, staff members met with parents to address any concerns, said Caroline Woodason, a director of school support. City Park School is hosting both the Kid City program for students in grades two-five as well as the summer enrichment program for rising prekindergartners, and ''we appreciate the opportunity to have summer school."

Dalton Public Schools has established a Return to School committee comprised of representatives from various departments in the system and several principals that meets each Monday to discuss the challenges and solutions of returning to classes in August, Scott said. The main question they wrestle with is "What will it take to get back to school?"

Already, the system has purchased 150 thermometers, 150 hand-washing stations, 500 face shields, 1,000 spray-clean bottles with attached microfiber cloths and face masks for all staff members, he said. There's also "increased cleaning and sanitizing" by custodial staff.

Dalton Public Schools "has given us more custodial staff, and they've gone above and beyond to support this program," said Saira Laruy, who oversees the summer offering at City Park for rising prekindergartners. "We're sanitizing and disinfecting all the time."

During summer school, temperatures of students are taken daily, and they're screened with questions as to symptoms or if they've been in contact with anyone who might be ill with COVID-19, Phinney said. "It takes some time to do all that."

All staff members are wearing masks, as are many students, she said. "If they don't have a mask, they can request one."

Dalton Public Schools plans to announce a final decision on how students will return to school — completely in-person, totally online or a blend of traditional instruction and distance learning — by July 20, Scott said. The first day of school is Aug. 6. More information about plans for the 2020-21 academic year can be found online at https://www.daltonpublicschools.com/district-resources/return-to-school.

The fact that teachers and staff members in Dalton Public Schools have such "strong relationships" with parents will help alleviate concerns of families about returning to school buildings, said Kim Rhyne, principal of City Park. "If we continue to be transparent, that will lesson the fear among families."

To conduct in-person school this fall, "it'll definitely be all-hands on deck, but our team is capable and strong," said Laruy, who is prekindergarten resource coordinator for Dalton Public Schools. "It can be done, but it will take creativity."

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