By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Note: This article is the first in a two-part look at what effect, if any, the COVID pandemic is having on the education of Atmore’s children.
Although a county-wide mask mandate for students, parents and school staff has been extended for a month (see related story), principals at the two lower-grade schools in and around Atmore say the signs of COVID-19 have decreased over last year, when the pandemic raged most fierce.
“Student absences are down this year,” said Toya McMillian, second-year principal at Rachel Patterson Elementary School. “We are averaging 25-30 absences a day out of 535 students, which is normal (in a pre-pandemic school term).”
Huxford Elementary Principal Leah Fuqua, also in her second year, said she’s seen the same numbers at her school.
“Student absences are about the same as this time last year,” Fuqua said.
Both schools had numerous students involved in virtual learning last year, but such distance education is now limited to students in grades 4-12. At RPES, no students are involved in virtual learning this year, while the number of HES students following that route has declined significantly.
“This time last year, we still had a large number of our students involved in virtual learning,” Fuqua said. “Due to the requirements and implementation of the Alabama Literacy Act … we only have three grades at Huxford which can participate in full virtual learning. Out of the three grades, Huxford has three students who are considered virtual students.”
McMillian said she’s glad none of her students are eligible for virtual learning.
“Fortunately, our students were not given the option to attend school virtually this year, so we have zero students involved in virtual learning,” the RPES principal said. “This year, we have all our students on campus, and they are learning in-person.”
Both principals noted that teachers and school staff are providing instruction for students who are absent or in quarantine. That, and keeping students and staff healthy have been and will remain a priority for each.
“When students are required to be quarantined due to Covid results and/or exposures, teachers are gathering work and assignments for students to complete at home while they are in quarantine,” Fuqua said. “As they always do, the Huxford Elementary School staff is rising to meet the daily challenges we are facing. We have increased our cleaning and sanitizing protocols. I am so proud to be a small part of such a dedicated team of professionals.”
McMillian said her school’s effort to keep pace with the pandemic has also been a team effort, one that has kept teachers inside the classroom.
“We have been so blessed this year,” she said. “The resurgence of COVID has not affected our students, faculty and staff like last year, as far as the number of positive cases. So far this year, our school has not experienced more than two teachers out at the same time due to COVID.
“We are praying that everything stays just like this. We are going to implement our COVID safeguards as well as our deep cleaning and sanitation protocols to keep everyone safe, healthy and learning.”
Part 2 will provide a similar look at how COVID is affecting Escambia County Middle School and Escambia County High School.