Virtually or Physically, the First School Systems Start Opening Under the Shadow of COVID-19

Cynthia McCain, left, goes over the syllabus of granddaughter Aniyah Ward at Fairfield High Preparatory School on 8-11-2020 (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Students in the Birmingham area are starting to get back to their studies this week as schools slowly begin to reopen.

This week through Sept. 8, schools will be kicking off what is bound to be an unusual school year. While all schools will be offering virtual learning programs, some are allowing students to go to class in person and others are offering blended programs of virtual and in-person learning.

Fairfield City Schools was one of the earliest systems in the area to reconvene, on Monday. The system is having orientation this week, laying the groundwork for instruction to commence.

Parents and students are going to schools to receive schedules, syllabi and, in some cases, devices for online learning.

Ninth-graders received their devices Tuesday at Fairfield Preparatory High School. Those devices were in hand because of a Gear Up partnership in which the University of Montevallo wrote a grant that, in part, issues computers to students that they can keep as they are promoted from one grade to the next.

More than 1,000 computers arrived Monday, and school system staffers worked for three hours Tuesday to prepare those devices for student distribution next week.

A stack of digital devices sit ready for student pickup during orientation at Fairfield High Preparatory School on 8-11-2020. (Photo by: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

“We hope to have them in the (school) buildings by Friday,” Superintendent Regina Thompson said. “On Monday, for instance, if kindergartners receive their computers on schedule, then on Tuesday kindergarteners start instruction.”

Other grade levels will follow suit on a similar schedule, with students receiving their devices one day and then beginning virtual classes the next day.

Fairfield’s virtual learning experience will be different from what it offered after COVID-19 brought an abrupt end to in-person learning in the spring.

“If you’re talking about elementary, we had students from C.J. Donald, Glen Oaks and Robinson all learning at the same time, through a Zoom lesson with the teachers,” the superintendent said. “Now, each parent will work with one individual teacher. That teacher will be able to help those 15 to 20 parents by themselves and they can freely call them.

“It is just like if your child was in my class, you would only work with me as a teacher,” Thompson said. “I’m going to talk you through the program. I’m going to tell you what resources can help them. And then if the child has special needs, then you will work with a special ed teacher as well.”

Operating plans vary for schools across the Birmingham area. Here’s a rundown on current plans by the schools, but expect some flexibility as schools react to coronavirus and technology challenges.


This story is being updated as school systems change planned opening dates, including Birmingham, Bessemer and Mountain Brook.