Virtual school poses new tests

  • LCMS 6th grade student Jeb Jackson said virtual school has some perks, like having his dog around while he’s learning.
    LCMS 6th grade student Jeb Jackson said virtual school has some perks, like having his dog around while he’s learning.

Although holding a doctorate in education, Lumpkin County Schools Superintendent Rob Brown found himself still wanting to learn more last week.

So he went back to kindergarten.

“When we began our committee discussions and planning for virtual learning, I struggled to imagine how it could work effectively at some grade levels, especially K-2,” Brown said. “I trusted my teachers and administrators that were telling me they could do it and we planned ahead."

So he sat in on  Lori Hubbard's virtual class room. "And I was blown away to see the amazing job she was doing with her students. She provided an energy-filled, attention grabbing lesson on the letter "D" while incorporating art skills and sounding out the letter in different words. Her students were actively involved and engaged the entire time. She is a shining example of the incredible work our teachers are doing each day to serve students in a virtual environment.”

On the home front, LCMS virtual schooler Jeb Jackson says doing virtual school comes with sacrifices, but also perks, like having his dog Trinity as a classmate.

“It stinks not seeing my friends and I prefer to be in a traditional classroom, but it’s been nice not to have to rush out the door in the morning and have a little more freedom during the day,” he said. “And also having my dog sitting next to me while I’m working is fun.”

This seems to be the experience for most of the 625 students who are enrolled in the virtual learning option the school system is offering this year as a result of COVID-19. Although there are challenges.

“Teaching virtually requires planning for every minute of the instructional day and provides an entirely new set of challenges when compared to traditional schooling,” Brown said. “Keeping students on task when they aren't in the room with you is a monumental challenge, but our teachers have responded with an outstanding first two weeks of school.”

And while the overall concept of traditional school hasn’t changed for the other 3205 students that returned to Lumpkin County schools, the primary challenge for in-person students is to get to keep coming to school.

On Monday, LCSS reported 22 students and three staff members are currently quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19 with another 128 students and five staff members being quarantined due to possible exposure to someone who has tested positive. Though not a part of the system's official biweekly  report, these numbers were specially provided ahead of The Nugget's press deadline.

The latest numbers, which were released Thursday, August 27, listed 20 students and three staff members currently quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19 with another 185 students and five employee being quarantined due to possible exposure.

While the number of students and staff currently quarantined make up just under 5 percent of students and staff that report to school each day, the climb in positive cases and quarantined students over the past two weeks have made some parents antsy about sending their children to school.

Amber Cannon grappled with the decision between virtual school or traditional school from the time the plan was announced on July 13 all the way up to the originally announced deadline on July 23. After one week of sending her two daughters to traditional school, Cannon said she regretted her choice.

“After one week of school, my middle school child was put on quarantine,” she said. “It made me feel like I made the wrong choice.”

It was then that Cannon began trying to switch both her middle school and high school students to virtual learning, only to learn that the virtual school option was full and that no students would be accepted without “documentation from a medical doctor of a diagnosed condition that would prevent the student from taking classes face-to-face.”

“I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be able to switch to virtual if I felt like it was unsafe for them,” she said. “I only knew if you chose virtual that you had to make a commitment of nine weeks.”

Brown said that the schools continued to accept students into the virtual option even after the deadline had past, up until the first day of school, with exception of the middle school, where virtual classes reached maximum capacity before the first day of school.

“Students were then placed on a waiting list and will be permitted into virtual learning if another student transfers out of virtual learning,” he said. “Since we began, 34 students have moved by choice from virtual learning to traditional instruction. We have backfilled those spots from the respective waiting list. Until a spot opens in virtual learning, students are expected to attend traditional school.”

As of Monday, there are currently 18 students on the waiting list to transition into virtual learning, according to Brown.

Brown explained the difficulties of adding more students to the virtual learning option.

“We structured our teaching schedules to accommodate the requests of students,” he said. “It was important to us to create our schedules so that students could be educated in the manner they preferred. We asked students to commit to nine weeks of instruction in their method of choice and we will consider transitions from one model to another at that time.”

According to Brown, the frustrations of the waiting list have caused some students to withdraw completely from LCSS and seek their education elsewhere, however the system actually gained more newly enrolled students than it lost.

“We have had six students withdraw to be homeschooled [with] some presumably not wanting to be on the waiting list and we have enrolled 16 students from homeschool,” Brown said.




While her middle school daughter waits out the remainder of her quarantine, Cannon says she is not sending her high school daughter back yet either, out of precaution.

“They never said anything about her sister [needing to be] quarantined,” Cannon said. “She goes to the high school so I made the decision to keep her home as well. What if she was infected with it by her sister? Then it would’ve spread at the high school.”

Cannon found this concerning.

She also worries that quarantining due to potential exposure could become an endless cycle.

“My kids said they don’t want to be quarantined for two weeks and then go to school for a day or two and then be quarantined again,” she said.

Cannon said she would like the school system to take further safety precautions.

“I know some schools have mandatory masks and are only going to school three days a week," she said. "Why can’t ours do that?”

However, Cannon remains committed to Lumpkin.

“I don’t want to enroll my kids somewhere else, they should be with their school system,” she said. “I have a good relationship with family connection and love our county and community.”