Hale County schools learning online through at least Tuesday

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Hale County High School

COVID-19’s omicron variant is taking a toll everywhere, but small, rural school systems are facing extra challenges.

For the Hale County School District, there are so many staff members and students out of work or school that it made sense to move back to virtual learning through at least Jan. 18, system officials said.

“As the week has progressed, our numbers have increased dramatically,” sale Hale County High School Principal Ronnie Garner.

Hale County is far from alone, considering Tuscaloosa City Schools reinstated their mask mandate beginning Jan. 18, and Greene County, Pickens County and Fayette County all swapped to virtual learning through the end of the week.

“Right now, we have nine staff members who have either tested positive or feel like they will test positive,” Garner said. “(Tuesday) we had over 100 students out. (Wednesday) we are over 100 again. Being a small school, 120 or so kids out, that is approximately one-third of our population.”

Hale County Superintendent Michael Ryans said between the number of teachers and students out, the board decided virtual learning was the best option.

“We have been trying to do everything possible to keep the schools open,” Ryans said. “Since there is an opportunity to have a five-day period away from school, we decided to go remote for the next five days, which includes the holiday Monday.”

But in Hale County, remote learning comes with its own challenges. Because many students live in rural areas, decent internet access isn’t always available.

“We put buses in place for broadband hotspots,” Ryans said. “Some of those areas were not effective, either. We are having to provide packages for instruction and electronic devices.”

While their system is small, it’s times like these that Ryans said their big hearts really show.

“We are fortunate to have a staff at each school that is very supportive of one another,” Ryans said. “When bus drivers go down, we have principals who agree to drive those bus routes.”

And that’s not COVID-specific, he said. They’ve done it before and they’ll do it again, just to make sure their students get to school and back.

In-person learning is expected to resume Tuesday, Jan. 18.

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