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Springwood announces reopening plan

Since the school closed in March due to COVID-19, the Springwood School’s board and Headmaster Lowrie McCown have been trying to figure out the best way to have students return to campus in the fall.

McCown released part of the school’s plan on July 14 on his Youtube channel, but the plan was not finished. As of Thursday, McCown says Springwood’s plan is 95% complete but could be forced to change if the COVID-19 pandemic shifts for either better or worse and more information becomes available.

As of Thursday, Springwood is planning to reopen for on-campus teaching starting on Aug. 17, a week later than the original school calendar.

“Our goal all summer has been to reopen on the 10th, in-person and in class,” McCown said. “We’ve been working on our protocol all summer as far as what we’re going to do, and it just keeps changing. Our teachers came to us, and because of the way that we’re going to be handling our classes, they’ve asked for another week.”

There are three options how classes will be taught. The first is traditional learning.

Springwood students that are in grades k4 through eighth grade will be grouped together into clusters. Each cluster will be made up of that student’s class, which will be entirely self-contained in the classroom. Students will also eat in their classrooms, or outside, if possible.

Only the high school students will continue to rotate classes because of the variety of subjects a student can take.

Since each classroom has its own external door, students and teachers will only be allowed to enter through those exteriors doors. All centralized air conditioning units will be turned off, but each classroom has an external air conditioning unit already installed.

“Because the air conditioning units are all self-contained, we can keep them together in their own cluster, their own family group, and try to mitigate any transmission of the virus to each cohort,” McCown said. “Because they’re not on the same air conditioning unit, they’re not sharing air with another room. Our major stress, as far as mitigating the virus issue, is you want  to reduce aerosols in the air.”

Since students will be grouped together, in the scenario where someone tests positive for COVID-19, Springwood can shut down specific areas of the school rather than closing the entire campus. For example, the high school could be shut down, but k4 through eighth grade could remain open.

Desks will be spaced out in order to maintain social distancing. If a class overflows, the overflow students will be moved to a different classroom with a proctor. The students will be able to log into their class’s online classroom and learn that way, which is the second way of instruction.

Overflow students will swap with students every other day, so the teacher will be in person with each student several times a week.

For physical education, teachers will travel to the classrooms. For the most part, students will be able to get outside for the class, but if they are unable to go outside, P.E. will be taught using a virtual classroom.

Springwood is also trying to reduce aerosols by requiring every student that is older than the third grade to wear a mask, which follows Gov. Kay Ivey’s mandate which was released on Wednesday.

Students will be required to wear three-ply masks at all times in the classroom and whenever they cannot maintain six-feet of distance. The school will provide students with two three-ply masks with a Springwood logo. Students can wear other masks as long as they are solid colors without any writing on them.

“My belief is that if we put masks on our kids, that will stop the aerosols from either me breathing in the aerosols or someone else breathing them in,” McCown said. “If you’re outside and six-feet apart you can take the mask off. Hopefully, we’re going to be able to get kids out of their classrooms during transitions.”

The final teaching option is going completely virtual, which will take effect if Springwood’s campus is needed to close down for any reason, whether something happens on campus or in the community as a whole.

Teachers would continue to teach live while students would log in to watch. Teachers will have cameras in their classrooms this year and will have microphones that go to those cameras, which will follow the teacher along the front of the classroom.

“The reason why we’re doing what we’re doing is we’re a community. We’ve got to have student-teacher relationships,” McCown said. “That’s why people pay tuition to come here because of the relationship. We need to be in-person to fulfill our mission as a school.”

Springwood is using CARES Act money to purchase laptops for second graders through eighth graders. The school already has laptops for high school students. Students lower than second grade will receive iPads. Springwood also plans to spend a portion of its CARES Act funding on air purifiers.

As of Wednesday, only two families had decided to do only online learning.

“We’re not at the point like some public schools where they have to choose between being on campus and online school,” McCown said. “We’re smaller, and we have a little bit more flexibility.”

Of its international students, Springwood had several students from Vietnam spend the summer in the international house. Seven stayed in the United States with various family members, while three went back to their native country.

Two of the three students that went home will be returning to start the 2020-21 school year. They will be quarantined for 14 days before being able to live in the international house.