Caldwell County students will have an option when schools open Aug. 24, but their parents and guardians need to decide by Friday how they want their children to begin the school year.

The Caldwell County School District posted a survey on its website Tuesday asking parents if they want their children to take part in traditional — or in-school — instruction or at-home instruction, also called non-traditional instruction, or NTI.

Parents need to take the survey at caldwell.kyschools.us to make that decision by Friday. Those who don’t take the survey will be called by the school district regarding that decision.

The decision they make will be in place for at least the first nine-week grading period. Parents will be able to make a change midway through the fall semester.

Those who approve of traditional instruction will be given a schedule of attendance.

“Half the school comes on Monday and Wednesday, and half comes on Tuesday and Thursday,” Superintendent Nate Huggins said. “Friday is going to be a virtual cleaning day, a virtual day for everybody. (Students) will get their in-class assignments from the two days they were (in school). They’ll have plenty to do.”

Huggins said with the reduced number of students coming to the schools, social distancing — keeping students, faculty and staff at least 6 feet apart — should be doable.

“We could take the masks off, but we’re not going to do that initially,” he said. “We’re going to keep the masks on for the kids. The teachers — if they’re 6 feet away, they can take their masks off and teach the class. It’s tough to teach a class with a mask on.

“The kids that are in the classroom, they’re going to have to keep their masks on initially until we work through it. It’s easier to start tough and lighten up as opposed to being light and having to toughen up.”

Students riding buses will have to wear a mask unless they have a doctor’s excuse saying a student cannot wear a mask because of a medical condition. Bus riders will have their temperature checked before taking their seat and will be provided a mask if they don’t have one of their own.

Huggins said parents will have the option to keep their children home, but they must have reliable internet service to receive online instruction.

“There won’t be any paper copies handed out,” he said. “Everything’s going to have to be on the internet.

“We’ve ordered 90 more ChromeBooks for each school (two months ago), which should put us pretty close to 1-to-1 (student-to-computer ratio). Parents who choose to keep their kids home, they probably have a device their kids can use, so that’s one less (computer) for the school to provide.”

The district has also ordered 42,000 disposable masks — 40,000 adult-size and 2,000 younger-size — for students who do not have their own masks, costing about 31 cents each.

“If you had 1,700 kids, which is about 95% of our population, if they showed up on a daily basis … it would cost us, for 170 school days, right at $245,000,” he said. “That’s at 85 cents a mask. That’s what I could get. Right now, it’s probably going to be $185,000 to $190,000, if you have to replace one every day.

“We’re hoping that parents will provide masks for their kids. It’s required to have one, so hopefully, they’ll find a way to get their kid a mask, especially a durable one they can wash.”

The Caldwell County School Board voted Thursday to push the first day of school for students back to Aug. 24. Faculty and staff will still return to their duties as scheduled on Aug. 10, Huggins said.

“There’s a lot of pre-planning, just in case the balloon goes up and we close our doors again and go back to the NTI process,” he said.

Huggins said that school won’t be as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You’re not going to be able to come have lunch with your kids like you used to,” he said. “We’re going to be open to parents to communicate with them, but if they have a situation where they need to come to school to talk to their child, they have to call ahead of time so we can plan for that and meet them at the door.

“No people from out of town will be allowed in the buildings. I mean, we’re being as safe and cautious as we possible can be.”

Huggins invited parents to call schools with any questions they may have. He urged parents to be flexible and communicate with schools. Information will also be posted at the district website at caldwell.kyschools.us.