By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Note: This is the second article in a two-part series on how big an effect COVID-19 and its variant are continuing to have on the schools in and around Atmore. This article deals with the middle school and high school levels.
Each of four first-year principals at schools in and around Atmore earned their baptism under fire last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic raged through local schools, disrupting the daily educational process and keeping students, teachers and staff at home.
After trying to guide their respective schools during a year in which the virus forced plans to be changed almost on a weekly basis, three of the four said the effects of COVID are relatively nominal in her follow-up term.
To a large degree, Amy Cabannis, top administrator at Escambia County High School, has seen a trend similar to that expressed last week by Huxford Elementary’s Leah Fuqua and Rachel Patterson’s Toya McMillian.
Cabannis reported that absences are a little higher, but not directly due to COVID, while Escambia County Middle School principal Takecia Barlow indicated that the virus is affecting her school more than she had hoped.
“Student absences are very comparable to the fourth quarter of last year,” Cabannis said. “I believe absences are higher than ‘pre COVID’ because many students who have taken jobs are finding it hard to get back into the routine of being fulltime students.”
Barlow didn’t pull any punches in relating the situation at ECMS.
“Student absences are currently up from last school year,” she said. “The resurgence in COVID affects every area of our school: students, faculty and staff. Many of our Eagle Pride family members have experienced a direct or indirect COVID-related situation resulting in an increase in absenteeism: a death, hospitalization, or quarantine from social gatherings outside of the school.”
Cabaniss said she, her students and her faculty and staff had crossed their fingers over the summer, hoping that a downward trend in positive COVID cases would continue. That didn’t happen.
“Students and staff, myself included, got a false sense of safety over the summer,” she explained. “Everything felt as if we were returning to normal, but the resurgence of COVID and the Delta variant has shown us that we really need to come up with ‘new normal’ protocols.”
She added that her hopes were high that a new downward trend, fueled by vaccinations, would signify the end of the pandemic.
“Our students and staff have been very good about wearing masks and following safe practices, but we are still seeing cases,” she said. “Stephanie Alaniz, ECHS school nurse and head nurse for the Escambia County School System, keeps up with the numbers and let me know last week that the number of new cases is starting to make a downward trend. Hopefully, this will continue.
“Unfortunately, we have had a number of students and staff who have had family and loved ones lose their lives to COVID. The students and staff have been super about pulling together to help them heal. Teachers and counselors are working overtime to support the mental and social needs of students as they process the reality of the new norms.”
The option remains for students at both schools to engage in virtual learning. But, unlike the previous school term, more paperwork is required of parents, and the number of students learning from home is relatively minimal.
Cabannis said nine ECHS students are fulltime virtual learners, while Barlow said only seven of ECMS’s students have chosen that route.
“The school system has developed a parent request format to determine whether there is a good reason for a student to be classified full virtual this year,” Cabannis pointed out. “Parents must make the request to the school principal and complete the required forms. The school principal sends the request to the Central Office, and they make the determination whether to accept the student as virtual or not.