In a meeting heavily devoted to briefing students, parents and the public on the status of when and how school would be resumed in the fall, the Lumpkin County Board of Education voted on Monday to delay the start of school by one week.
“The reason for this change, is to give our staff an opportunity to adjust curriculum maps, set norms for Google Classrooms, amend student IEP’s, schedule students into our virtual option, better prepare lessons for higher quality virtual instruction, train teachers on technology platforms and cover many new safety and procedural guidelines that we must implement for the safety of students and staff,” Superintendent Dr. Rob Brown said at the start of the meeting.
After over an hour of presentations by various LCSS staff addressing what school will look like this fall, the change, recommended by Brown, was approved by the board unanimously, moving the start date for all Lumpkin County schools from August 3 to August 10. The move also shortens the school year from the traditional 180 school days to 175 days.
A major reason for the delay to restarting school is to give teachers and staff an extra week to prepare for a virtual option that the school will provide to any student, K-12.
Parents will have the choice of sending their kids back to school for traditional, in-person instruction, or opting for a virtual learning experience. However, the virtual learning option will be very different than “crisis school,” when the schools were shut down and forced to go virtual in the spring when the COVID-19 outbreak first began. Students will be required to log on and be active during the school day, which runs parallel to the traditional schooling option.
While given much more time to plan for this version of virtual schooling compared to in the spring, there are still plenty of challenges in implementing a virtual option, especially for elementary school students.
“We had a great discussion with a bunch of teachers from all three elementary schools and it would’ve been very easy for that discussion to become super negative, especially based on the end of year last year and the experience we all had with virtual learning in elementary school,” Nathan Gerrells, co-leader of the staff’s virtual learning focus group said during the meeting. “It is a challenge to think about how to address the needs of Kindergarten students in a virtual environment...This is not going to be an ideal situation for people that we have choosing virtual school, we are hoping this will a temporary until everything settles down. We want to have our kids back in the buildings in K-5 as soon as possible.”
When weighing the options of traditional school and virtual school, parents were told to consider factors from internet and device access to how their student handled virtual learning in the spring and how independent their student is. For K-5 students, it’s recommended that parents are actively working with the kids throughout the school day, planning to spend at least two to four hours a day helping their student, depending on their age.
Those who choose the virtual option are asked to be committed to that style of learning for an extended period of time.
“We’re asking our elementary parents that choose the virtual option to commit to nine weeks of providing that avenue of instruction for their children, and we’re asking high school and middle school students to commit to a semester of learning,” Brown said. “Whereas we’re going to align our curriculum maps and we’re going to try and stay on the same pacing guides with our scope and sequence of instruction, we know that there’s going to be some disparity and it’s not going to be just a seamless transition from virtual to traditional back to virtual, so we’re asking them for an extended commitment.”
For those who decide virtual school would be the best fit for their student, parents must fill out an application, found on the school’s website, for their student by July 23. Any student who doesn’t request to be a part of the virtual school option by the deadline will be assumed to be a traditional student.
Until then, the question of how many students opt for virtual learning still looms, with school staff not knowing what to expect or how to plan accordingly.
“There’s still a lot unknown when it comes to this and the big unknown is that we don’t know how many kids we’re going to have sign up for virtual instruction,” Gerrells said. “Once we get those numbers in, we’ll have to quickly make a bunch of decisions about how we’re going to serve all those kids.”
A question for many parents was if a student requested to do virtual learning, would they be eligible to participate in extracurricular activities after school.
“Kids that choose the virtual option will be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities,” Brown said. “We feel like there’s a difference between coming to school with 1,100 or 1,200 other high school students and participating on a team after school which may have 12 or 15 kids, so we did not want to remove that capacity for our kids to participate.”
NEW RULES READIED
Lumpkin County School Systems staff collaborated across seven focus groups to produce a plan for restarting school this fall. Here were some highlights discussed during the meeting:
• Masks or face coverings are “strongly encouraged” for both staff and students, but not mandatory. Masks will be provided for all staff members, but not students.
• Students showing symptoms of COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms will be taken to a COVID isolation room to be screened for COVID-19, however no testing will be done at the school.
• Temperature tests will not be conducted by staff at school or bus stops. Parents are asked to pre-screen their students each day before school.
• School nutrition staff will be required to wear masks.
• All food, beverages, condiments and utensils will be served to customers of the school cafeteria. Principals of each school will lead efforts to minimize the number of students in the cafeteria at any given time, with class rotations. An extra lunch tract will be added at the high school.
• Students riding the bus will be encouraged to wear a mask or face covering at all times on the bus.
• Buses will transport with windows down in lieu of air conditioning whenever possible.
• Electrostatic sprayers will be used to sanitize buses and buildings at the end of each day and at the end of each bus ride.
• Open House will be held for all schools on August 6. Families will be limited to two family members with their students for Open House and should come during their corresponding time frame, according to the first letter of their last name.