At this point Bulloch County Schools leaders intend to start classes on or about Aug. 17 using only “virtual” online platforms for kindergarten through 12th grade, Superintendent Charles Wilson said in an online answer session and an interview Thursday.
But nothing is certain yet.
“August 17th is the date that we’re using right now so we can have time for teachers and staff to return, as normal, during preplanning, to start preparing for what we can do to re-engage students, even if it’s online or virtually, so that we can move forward,” Wilson said during Thursday’s 9 a.m. session. “We all know this,” he continued, as 488 people logged in to listen during the livestreaming. “Our students need to be re-engaged in their learning. They need to be re-engaged socially and emotionally. We need to get back to school, somehow.”
A week earlier, Wilson and his staff were still planning for an Aug. 3 start of traditional face-to-face classes, but giving parents the option of virtual classes for their children. Those plans were for rates of local COVID-19 transmission in the “green,” low or no spread, or “yellow,” minimal or moderate spread, categories.
Administrators also had a draft plan for the “red” zone, substantial community spread of the disease. But that plan was based on the assumption that if this occurred, it would be later in the school year, Wilson acknowledged.
Then on June 26 – the day after the Board of Education tabled a motion by two of its members to delay the in-person start of school for five weeks, to Sept. 8 – he learned that the Georgia Department of Public Health had already placed Bulloch County in the “substantial spread” category.
Indeed, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the county increased six-fold during June, including a more than 200% rise in the last week.
The community spread categories are cited in a state document, prepared by the Georgia Department of Education and the Department of Public Health, called “Georgia’s Path to
Recovery for K-12 Schools.” It provides “very good guidance” but “not an absolute requirement” for what school districts should do each case, Wilson said.
Face-to-face option ASAP
“Our intent is to start virtually … with an option for parents to return their students to a traditional setting, a face-to-face setting, as soon as possible,” he said. “Now what that ‘as soon as possible’ means is yet to be determined. Under the state guidance, that would mean when we move out of substantial spread back to the minimal to moderate spread category.”
Even in substantial spread, the decision to keep the schools closed or open them remains the local Board of Education’s to make, he noted.
“Until that occurs, we are operating under state guidance, and I think that’s why it’s important that our board continues – and they agree with this – our board wants to hear you, and this is part of why we’re doing this,” Wilson said. “We need feedback. We need to understand what this community wants and expects.”
More than 700 questions were submitted before Thursday’s session. Only Wilson appeared on the screen, giving an introduction and then responding to frequently raised topics.
All-virtual for starters
Right now, the plan is to start school for students learning from home, with the main part of each class provided using one of two virtual learning platforms.
Edgenuity, previously known as e2020 and used in the school system’s Transitions Learning Center alternative program and Graduation Performance Academy, will be used for sixth through 12th grades. A newly identified platform, SchoolsPLP, will be used for kindergarten through fifth grade.
Both of these platforms provide recorded lessons by teachers hired by the companies that operate the platforms, not Bulloch County Schools teachers.
Local teachers to supplement
But local teachers will provide supplemental instruction, working with students who need help and providing enrichment activities to those ready to learn more, much as they do in small-group breakout sessions in traditional classrooms, Wilson said.
For the supplemental instruction, and for lessons that local teachers may develop for all of their students, the school system will use Google Classroom and no longer a mix of Zoom and Google Classroom as was done for last spring’s voluntary online classwork.
Wilson said “the focus will be on mastery of grade-level standards” and “assignments will no longer be optional” as they were in the spring.
The school system, which was already increasing its inventory of Chromebook laptops, will make these available for checkout by all students who need them.
But the schools do not yet have a clear solution for families with limited or no internet access.
“That’s a little trickier because we have no control over that,” Wilson said on the phone. “We just do not know who out there does and doesn’t have a connection. We’re trying to find out, and we’re going to just have to work with families. We don’t know all the details yet, but this is going to require some community partnerships. We can do some mobile hotspots. …”
In questions and comments, many parents have expressed concern about having to use child care while they work and then not having time for virtual school. Wilson said he shares this concern. He noted that the Edgenuity and SchoolsPLP platforms allow families to log in at different times, with a week being the usual timeframe to complete assignments.
But the local teachers may set specific times for supplemental activities, he added.
“We are working to offer courses for STEM and gifted,” he said in the online video, in response to another set of questions.
He mentioned band as another subject difficult to teach online.
Band camp hiatus
Some students and parents will probably be disappointed with Wilson’s latest decision on summer practices, but other parents told the board last week that summer band camps moving forward conflicted with COVID-19 concerns.
“I have told our high school principals that we’re not to implement band practice and athletic training until further notice, because we have a lot to figure out in this community,” he said on the phone. “Kids showing back up and being able to practice while we’re saying ‘virtual’ because we’re ‘substantial spread’ wouldn’t make sense.”
Wilson’s second livestream session is slated for 3 p.m. Monday via www.bullochschools.org/boardlive. Parents and others can still submit questions to a public form, https://bit.ly/38c81dV. Thursday’s session is archived at www.bullochschools.org/boardlive.
The Board of Education also has a meeting at 6:30 p.m. July 9, including an opportunity for comments from the public.