Sunday September 20th, 2020 9:49AM

Gainesville School Board talks outdoor classrooms, COVID-19 numbers as students return

By Alyson Shields Reporter

As the learn-from-home days come to a close this week in the Gainesville City School System, administrators are looking at more ways to keeps kids safe while learning.

One idea is outdoor classrooms or learning areas at each school, and some sites were identified at the school board's work session Tuesday night.

Every school had a potential space or two that could be turned into an outdoor space, with the exception of Gainesville High School.

"Our high school is wide open," said Facilities Director Adrian Niles. "Just give it some thought, I'm sure some areas could be identified."

"Wide open but under construction," Superintendent Jeremy Williams said. "So we are limited at Gainesville High School." 

The 9th Grade Center, while not attached to the high school but nearby, had two or three spaces available for some outdoor classrooms.

Board member Sammy Smith said his first impression was hesitant due to the fact that the system hasn't had a lot of success previously with an outdoor classroom set up, and was concerned if the spaces would be viable after the COVID-19 pandemic had passed.

"Could we use this report as a basis to take this to another level, perhaps to engage our governance councils and school leaders and tell us what is needed to enhance this space, furnishings, tents, permanent or temporary, electricity, Wi-Fi access," asked Smith. "Can this report take us to the next step and approach each campus with a vision?"

Budget restrictions do have a hold on outfitting the outdoor learning spaces, Williams reminded the group, but Niles said the base of Smith's question - could the report be the launchpad for determining what school would best use what - could be answered as, certainly. "I think there's going to be much conversation with governance councils and leaders and determine which way they want to go," Niles said.

The board, Williams, and Niles agreed to discuss that matter further.

Meanwhile, as the pandemic continues, anyone who wants to follow the COVID-19 numbers in the school system each week can access those on the district website. Superintendent Jeremy Williams said the data is available by location, but there are some key elements to remember while assessing it.

"We are reporting from the previous week, so when it says September 7th, those are the number of cases through last Friday, of the previous week," Williams said. 

He said numbers were a little high when students returned to school, but then steadied, and they expect numbers to rise again as students returned this week.

"This does not represent a case being contracted at the school, it just represents our students and our employees, the cases that are positive within our Gainesville City family."

The most recent numbers show a decline, Williams said, with a total of 29 reported cases. The link to that data can be found here.

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