This story was updated on July 22, 2020 with additional information regarding TCS' return plan. 

The board of the Tuscaloosa City School System voted to host its first nine weeks of instruction virtually Tuesday night, with classes beginning on August 20th.

The move comes among continued concerns about the spread of COVID-19, which continues to spread at a sobering rate throughout the city, state and nation.

At a board meeting Tuesday night, superintendent Mike Daria said the recommendation that was later adopted was out of an abundance of caution and for the safety of school children and their families.

"I would rather be thought incorrect by being too cautious in the short term than to be too eager to get back to business and something to happen to our children and our employees," Daria said.

He said the measure will allow TCS to ease back in school so students can stay in school, rather than putting 11,000 students and 1,000 employees back in physical classrooms before such a move is warranted by the trends of the pandemic.

"The return to school remains our intent," Daria said. "We want our students back in our schools."

After that first nine weeks, students and their families will have two options for the rest of the year. Option No. 1 is full-time virtual learning, which will come with a commitment to remain at home for the rest of the 2020-21 school year.

"As of today, we have 1,186 students signed up for that option," Daria said during a live ZOOM meeting with TCSS' Director of Career and Technical Education Dennis Duncan, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama President Jim Page, and other city leaders on Wednesday, July 22. He added that TCS expects a total of 2,500 to 3,000 students to opt-in for virtual learning.

The second option comes as a three-pronged variable plan whose goal is for students to come to school full-time and be taught face-to-face. However, depending on the health needs of the community and how successful the schools can be in keeping the coronavirus out of their classrooms, students may have to resort to part-time or full-time virtual instruction.

“Flexibility is key," Daria said. "We are going into a situation that we do not know. We may have to go in between different models depending on our community and their needs.”

Essentially, this option keeps the decision-making in the hands of the school board while also allowing students to try to return to school normally. Daria asserted that cleaning and deep sanitizing measures will be in place throughout the day and overnight, but if an outbreak does occur in a school, the Board can be prepared to offer the most ideal solution to get kids home and keep them learning with sufficient equipment, connections and instruction.

“The part I don't want to misstate at all, I want to be very clear: we want our students back and the plan is to get our students back as soon as possible,” Daria said. 

As per the statewide and citywide mask mandates, any student over 7 years of age will be required to wear a facial covering while at school.

Watch the board's entire two-and-a-half meeting below, or stay tuned to this site and station for more information on the system's plan for the 2020-2021 academic year as it becomes available.

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