CAIRO — Grady County schools may implement a requirement for students and staff to wear face masks in common areas such as hallways for the upcoming school year, though Superintendent Kermit Gilliard said the details of how such a mandate would be enforced are still being considered.

Decisions on what consequences to impose on individuals who violate the proposed mandate, if it is put into place, will be determined within the next four weeks before school returns September 8, Gilliard said at Tuesday’s meeting of the Grady County Board of Education.

Gilliard said the school district began considering the requirement after he consulted with medical professionals.

In speaking with administrators from school districts that already have reopened, Gilliard said he believes the biggest challenge to reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic is not from students, but from adults. The superintendent noted that the pool of substitute teachers for the upcoming school year may be highly limited due to the fact that most subs are older, and thus more at-risk from the virus and more likely to stay at home.

Students could be forced to return to a distance-based learning format as they were earlier this year if teachers become infected with the virus, Gilliard said.

“In my opinion, that’s what would shut us down and cause us to go virtual,” he said. “It’s a lack of adults to manage children at school. It’s not the children. It’s going to be us.”

School officials are in the process of determining how many virtual teachers will be required to fulfill the needs of the 1,139 students who have so far opted to receive their education online this upcoming year.

“We go back and forth,” Gilliard said, “but my thoughts are that virtual teachers may have a few more (students) than if they were in a classroom. If we do that, it would allow us to spread students out more in school and get closer to having that six feet of distance.”

Another 3,439 students have enrolled to receive face-to-face instruction, though Gilliard noted that those figures are changing daily.

The school board voted Tuesday to approve a $67,000 bid to install outdoor Wi-Fi access points at each Grady County school to allow students studying virtually to access internet from school parking lots. The school board also purchased 580 iPads for special education and pre-K students to use in the event that schools are forced to close.

School board members also voted to finalize a plan to revise the 2020-21 academic calendar to begin the school year on September 8. The revised calendar, the school board’s third attempt at issuing a plan for the academic year following the initial plan of an August 3 start and an aborted attempt to begin the year on August 7, will feature 170 student days and 190 teacher days.

“We were glad that we didn’t open as scheduled,” Gilliard said. “We were given the opportunity to look at others’ mishaps and we’re hoping we won’t have the same missteps.”

Fall break in October has been eliminated entirely, and two days have been subtracted from students’ usual Thanksgiving recess. Spring break and a two-week break in December for Christmas remain intact. The school year will conclude May 28.

Gilliard noted that the revised calendar will have the same school days as neighboring Thomasville and Thomas County school systems.

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