first day of school

Eclectic Middle School sixth grader Caroline Hill poses for a photo on the first day of school. Submitted

The first day of school went relatively well in Elmore County, according to superintendent Richard Dennis.

Dennis said Monday was relatively quiet and smooth sailing as teachers and students got acquainted with the new procedures in place to help protect against the contracting COVID-19 virus.

“We’re in the process of getting teachers and students trained on the new processes in place, like the new way that we’re doing lunch and getting kids to spread out in the hallways,” Dennis said. “We’re also taking the time to make sure kids know how to use the virtual learning platforms that we’ve implemented just in case they have to be out of school because of COVID.”

Dennis said the district will follow certain protocols whenever it’s discovered an employee or student has been exposed to COVID-19. If a student or employee has been in close contact with a person confirmed to have COVID-19, they will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days. Close contact means failing to maintain a 6-foot distance for more than 15 minutes, with or without a mask. 

Students who are unable to attend school and have appropriate documentation will be given enough time to complete their schoolwork virtually. Students who adequately complete their virtual assignments will not be marked as absent. In these particular situations, a student won’t have to be physically present at school to be marked as present. 

Dennis said traditional first-day-of-school problems, like traffic congestion, weren’t as much of a problem this year. Systemwide, about 39% of students, 4,329 kids, have opted to participate in the virtual learning program at the school they’re zoned for. 

EDGE Virtual School, which offers 100% virtual learning throughout the school year, currently has 241 students enrolled with several still completing the enrollment process.

Dennis said having nearly 40% of students enrolled virtually at their base school translates into fewer cars on the road and fewer children riding school buses. He said having fewer students on campuses will also make it easier for schools to settle into new routines.

The district’s total enrollment as of Tuesday was 10,710 students, which is down from an enrollment of 10,953 last school year on the same day. 

“We are seeing parents who are not enrolling their kindergarteners because technically they’re not required by law to start attending school until the first grade,” Dennis said.

That’s a concern because a decline in enrollment could translate into a decline in federally-funded teacher salaries for the school system. Dennis is concerned there will be an influx of students entering the first grade but not enough funds from the federal government to cover additional teacher salaries. 

The school district has some time before its average daily enrollment is recorded by the Alabama State Department of Education. The district’s official enrollment number will be decided based on the average number of kids enrolled during the first 20 school days following Labor Day.