On Second Thought: Hoover City Schools Return Elementary Students to Classrooms, but Not Older Kids

Elementary students will return to classrooms for four days a week beginning Monday. (Source: Hoover City Schools)

The Hoover City School District has altered a decision to return students to classrooms on a full-time basis because of a turn for the worse in local COVID-19 data.

Instead, parents of children in fifth grade and younger who opted for in-school education will attend classes four days a week beginning Monday, according to a statement issued Tuesday by the system. That’s up from the two days a week that those students attend now. But those in grades six and higher will stay with the staggered two-day schedule — a reversal of a previous decision by the system to return to in-school classes every day. Parents who opted for virtual learning for their children may continue using that system.

According to a report in the Hoover Sun, Superintendent Kathy Murphy expressed concerns in a board meeting last week about the system’s plan to move students from the current schedule as of Monday.

Murphy said Jefferson and Shelby counties had been reclassified into a very high risk category by the Alabama Department of Public Health over the previous two weeks. Parts of Hoover’s school system are located in each county.

The reclassification was based in part on positivity rates — the percentage of people who test positive for COVID-19 among all those tested. Jefferson County had a positivity rate of 11.76% for the previous two weeks as of Sept. 18, and Shelby County’s rate was 14.94%.

New-case numbers also have spiked for Shelby County, with a 7-day average of 46.57 new cases per day as of Wednesday, close to triple the 17.71 average on Aug. 25. Jefferson County stands at 123.29 new cases per day over the past seven days, up from a recent low of 75.86 on Aug. 25.

The statement by the Hoover City Schools also said, “It is also important to know that it is our intent to return elementary students and all HCS students to five days of instruction as soon as reasonably possible but no later than the beginning of our second 9-week grading period, which begins Oct. 19.” The statement also said that social distancing could not be guaranteed in either buses or classrooms.

The Trend to Return to Classrooms

The Hoover system’s latest move came in the wake of decisions by two other metro Birmingham-area districts to move closer to traditional schedules. Shelby County Public Schools resumed full in-school instruction this week, while allowing parents to still opt for virtual learning if they wish.

Jefferson County Schools are moving from fully virtual to five-day in-school learning over the next few weeks. It will start with a transitional period of two days in school and three days virtual, with half of students attending schools Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half attending Thursdays and Fridays. The transition is being phased in beginning with pre-K and self-contained exceptional education students returning for two days next week, followed by elementary schools on Sept. 28 and secondary schools on Oct. 5. The return to five-day in-school attendance follows two weeks later for each grade level. Again, parents may continue to opt for virtual learning.

A check of other school districts in metro Birmingham showed that the rest were remaining with the plans they used to open the academic year.