Savannah Classical Academy takes extra steps to protect students during pandemic as some return to classes

by: Ashley Williams Posted: Aug 19, 2020 / 03:24 PM EDT / Updated: Aug 21, 2020 / 11:30 AM

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — While most Chatham County schools kicked off their virtual learning format and a new academic year, a local charter school is giving its families a choice.

Savannah Classical Academy opened its doors Wednesday with dual learning options — meaning parents can opt to send their children to classes for an in-person learning experience or allow them to learn online at home. 

“Every school had to make the decision that they felt was best for them,” the school’s executive director, Barry Lollis, told NOW.

He said roughly 40% of parents chose to enroll their students for in-person classes.

“We felt it was in our mission to offer that to families,” Lollis said.

He adds that of around 410 enrolled students, about 190 of them are learning on campus this semester. Meanwhile, virtual learners are able to attend the same classes simultaneously from home.

Choosing to open its campus doors during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means taking several extra steps to ensure the safety of all students and faculty.

Savannah Classical Academy says their first day was a success.

“I have no complaints,” Lollis said. “Our parents have been phenomenal in helping us and ensuring children understand the protocols for their masks and their uniforms.”

He noted that virtual learners also have to wear the school uniform. 

“Everyone — parents, teachers and students — has done a great job,” he said.

The school says it’s closely following guidance from the Georgia Department of Education, Gov. Brian Kemp, the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lollis said students are scanned before they get out of their vehicle and again as they enter the building. He says the staff goes through the same screening process, and any visitors must be screened and cleared for entry by the campus nurse.

That screening process involves a touchless temperature check and several questions relating to possible recent COVID-19 exposure. 

Other safety measures include:

  • sanitizing floor mats that disinfect a person’s shoes at the entrance
  • germicidal UV-C entryway lighting
  • prohibiting the use of water fountains unless a student has a refillable water bottle that can be used at touchless filling stations
  • social distancing
  • hand sanitizing stations throughout campus
  • plastic dividers surrounding students’ desks and cafeteria eating areas

“In our HVAC system, we installed some plasma ionization systems that disinfect the air and when the air lands on surfaces, it disinfects those,” Lollis said. 

The entire school building is fogged daily, with some of the high-use areas being fogged several times during the day.

“It’s fogged with a food-safe, food-quality disinfectant, so it’s not harmful to surfaces and children,” Lollis explained.

All students and staff are required to wear facial coverings on campus, and there are plenty of extra masks available should anyone need one.

“This morning, we had a child arrive that forgot their mask at home, so our teachers have those and we give them the masks to wear before they come into the building,” Lollis said.

He says if a student is found to have a higher temperature than normal during screenings, the staff would advise the parent to take the child home to quarantine for a certain period.

If a student starts to exhibit potential COVID-19 symptoms while on campus, the school has set up an isolation lounge in the far corner of the gymnasium where they can rest under a nurse’s supervision.

“It has a separate entrance and exit door so that child would be isolated there until the parent could pick them up,” Lollis said. 

“Because it has a separate entrance and exit, it also has a negative pressure fan, so while the child is in there, it exhausts to the outside,” he said.

For now, Savannah Classical Academy has put after-school activities and sports on hold.

“We want to resume those, but right now, we’re just waiting for some additional guidance because schools that have reopened and are not using the protocols we have in place are having some difficulties, and so we’re trying to learn from them,” Lollis said.

The school’s dual learning format is expected to continue through the first semester and depends on when the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System returns to in-person classes.

“When the district decides to resume bus services, then we will resume more on-campus learning,” Lollis said.