As Calhoun County ISD and Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic School return from their respective winter breaks, school officials talk about preparing for students’ and staffs’ safety amidst COVID.

OLG Principal Theresa Dent talked to the Wave about their COVID Task Force and what plans they laid out for the return of the students and staff.

Dent said the work the task force “did over the summer preparing OLG COVID Protocols has really paid off for the school.”

“No major changes to the protocols have had to be made since the beginning of the school year,” Dent said. “However, immediately after the Thanksgiving break, the team noted the spike in COVID cases both in Calhoun County and in the Mariner families and decided to take a more proactive approach to addressing how they would monitor the Christmas break.”

According to Dent, the Task Force met between Thanksgiving and Christmas to “develop a COVID Christmas Survey” for OLG Parents and sent it on Jan. 2.

The survey questions were sent to parents “prior” to the Christmas break so “they can be aware” of what is being asked, Dent said.

She added, in addition to the survey, the task force “developed a list of best practices and reminders for holidays.”

“The school published a special “COVID Update” edition of their OLG Navigator newsletter that was sent out prior to the Christmas break providing this information to all Mariner families,” Dent said. “The main goal of this newsletter was to keep COVID awareness high during the holiday break so as to minimize its impact on Mariner families and also the school.”

Also, on the best practices against COVID, Dent said the task force is “trying to increase awareness by providing daily updates on how COVID is impacting the OLG campus.”

Dent added the task force’s goals are to be as “transparent as possible while respecting the privacy of the OLG families.”

“The primary message of the OLG COVID Task Force Team is - It’s not over yet,” Dent said, “but they don’t just give a warning, they provide information on how to protect your family so everyone can continue to function at work, home, and school. This provides a message of hope for everyone.”

At CCISD, Superintendent Larry Nichols and Assistant Superintendent Kelly Taylor talked about tools that the district will continue to use for the new semester.

“CCISD has prepared for a continuation of the CCISD drive-up testing center for students and staff. This is a voluntary testing program,” Taylor said. “Mrs. Dierlam, RN,  and Mrs. Fishbeck, LVN, have tested many in our school community. In some cases, the tests identified individuals as COVID positive before they were symptomatic. This kept our schools open and safe.”

Taylor added the district added a self-screener application for their staff, and they’ll continue to use the thermal cameras to detect “any feverish individuals.”

Nichols talked about the differences between preparing the district in the fall semester for COVID and heading into the spring semester.

Nichols said they have a “semester of experience” when handling COVID in the school district.

“We have responded whenever there’s a COVID case. We have the procedures down that were practiced,” Nichols said.

There was “uncertainty” over the summer, but Nichols added their procedures are more “established at the current time,” and the district knows what they need to do to keep their “staff and students safe.”

Taylor stated that the district will continue to “provide face-to-face and E-Learning formats.” She added the district has made “strong partnerships” with the medical community, CCISD employees, and parents.

“Calhoun County has worked hard as a community to remain safe, use common sense, and keep schools open,” Taylor said.

Taylor spoke about E-Learning Academy being under the direction of the principals and teachers of their respective campuses.

“In August, we created an E-Learning Academy due to the number of families requesting E-Learning,” Taylor said. “This was an excellent program that served E-Learning families and allowed campus teachers to focus on Face-to-Face instruction.”

For the second semester, Taylor said the enrollment for E-Learning dropped by 2/3. She stated that “most families wanted to connect with their home campus and teachers.”

“A personal connection between a classroom teacher and a student is so important,” Taylor said. “Students learn best when they work with a teacher they know and trust.”

Taylor talked about Google Classroom, and she said students who are at home for an illness or quarantine will “continue to be instructed by a teacher through Google Classroom and remote instruction.”

“Teachers have used Google-Classroom throughout the first semester so that students would be familiar with the format in the event of an absence,” Taylor said.

Nichols talked about the importance of the district keeping their students and staff safe and healthy.

Nichols spoke about district buying temperature scanners, and he added the most important thing is asking everyone to wear a mask on campus.

“We’ve asked people to wear masks on campus, and we’ve also done the hand sanitizer, obviously. That’s prevalent throughout the campuses, easily accessible, and frequently used,” Nichols said.

Nichols talked about social distancing, and he used an administrative meeting as an example.

He said they spread out during the meeting, and he added if they have too many, they’ll go to a location where they can spread out.

“We’re trying to follow common sense during this very unusual time,” Nichols said. “We all look forward to the day when all these measures are not necessary, but today they appear to be necessary.”