MOULTON — It wasn't the first day of his senior year that James Huang envisioned last winter, but the Lawrence County High student said he was glad the staff took precautions Wednesday to keep the students and themselves safe from the COVID-19 virus.
“It’s especially important for the seniors to adapt to our circumstances and set good examples for the upcoming juniors, sophomores and freshmen,” said Huang, who plans to study computer engineering in college next fall. “With the pandemic, we all must overcome the obstacles in front of us.”
Jayden Orr, a senior girls basketball player, said she was trying to “make the best of it.” Sitting on the front row of Rich Dutton’s Spanish I class Wednesday morning, Orr sat two rows from the nearest classmate.
“It’s great to see my friends and get school started, but it’s different than what we all expected,” she said.
Huang, Orr and 200 or so other Lawrence County High students were met with the new reality Wednesday morning — no water fountains, no vending machines, small groups of students walking in formation on the right side of the hallway, social distancing in classrooms and the lunchroom, smaller break areas and a more subdued environment.
The high school was one of 12 Lawrence County campuses to open the school year Wednesday. Two schools, Moulton Middle and Moulton Elementary, will delay opening for in-person classes until Aug. 26 after an individual connected to both schools tested positive for COVID-19.
At Lawrence County High, Assistant Principal Sonya Kilpatrick said about half of enrolled students attended traditional classes on opening day. Seniors and freshmen were there on Wednesday. Juniors and sophomores will get their first walk-through today and all four classes will attend Friday.
“The staggered start gives us the opportunity to see how everything is working,” she said.
Kilpatrick said 616 students are on the LCHS roster, the largest school in the county in terms of student population. She said 407 are registered for traditional schooling, 116 in 100% virtual and the remaining 93 are enrolled in a blended mix of traditional and virtual.
Safety protocols and precautions were easy to spot, said freshman Brody Gillespie.
“Masks are annoying, but we all have to deal with it,” he said. “The administration has done a great job, and it has made it easier for us to adjust. The teachers are helping us prepare in case we have to go all virtual.”
Kilpatrick said the staff met several times during the summer and played out various scenarios. “Today has been a relatively smooth start to school compared to what it could have been,” she said. “The parents have been very supportive of our efforts.
“We are making sure the students are social distancing and wearing masks. Nobody can come in the building without a mask.”
Students, staff and visitors enter the school near the office and exit on the west side near the auditorium. Visitors have their temperatures taken upon entering. Replacing the vending machines are staff members selling snacks during abbreviated break periods. “Students can bring bottled water from home if they desire,” Kilpatrick said. “Teachers open and close doors to the classrooms so students can walk in and out of the room without ever having to touch anything.”
A wall in the nurse’s office is being removed to accommodate isolation and a sick room and a well room, she said.
Some faculty members were busy distributing Chromebooks to students in case the pandemic threat increases and school must be taught totally virtual.
“Our staff is prepared to be flexible,” she said. “We’re prepared to be a little stricter with our guidelines as well as lenient. We’re preparing for (virtual classes) if that comes about.”
Superintendent Jon Bret Smith said teachers were setting up appointment times with parents of students at Moulton Elementary and Moulton Middle to issue them Chromebooks for the virtual classes.
In addition to the person who tested positive for COVID-19 with those two schools, 10 individuals who were in close contact with the infected person also were quarantined.