Public school systems in almost all area counties are now offering parents a choice between traditional face-to-face school and stay-home “virtual” online classes for their children. Some districts have also delayed the start of school to make this possible.
Through last week, the Evans County Schools in Claxton had kept Aug. 3 on their 2020-21 calendar as the first day of school. But meeting Monday, their Board of Education adopted Aug. 10 as the start date for traditional face-to-face school and Aug. 17 as the date when online classes will begin for children whose parents choose the virtual option.
“That will allow us time to get them registered and get all of the components set up,” Evans County Schools Superintendent Dr. Marty Waters said Wednesday.
Evans County will be using the Edgenuity online platform – which features recorded teachers hired by the company – for sixth through 12th grades, just as Bulloch County is doing.
For kindergarten through fifth grades, Evans County’s administrators are also considering the similarly preprogrammed SchoolsPLP platform. But, especially if relatively few elementary school children are signed up for the virtual option, Evans County teachers could be assigned to teach them using Google Classroom instead, Waters said.
By Wednesday morning, about 90 students were registered for the virtual program, he reported. That’s about 4% of the approximately 1,950 students enrolled at Claxton Elementary, Claxton Middle and Claxton High School.
But parents have until Thursday, July 23, to register through an online form at www.evans.k12.ga.us or by a paper form available at the school board office in Claxton.
For traditional school, masks will be required for Evans County students on school buses and “highly encouraged” but not mandatory for students in the school buildings, he said. School employees will be required to wear masks in common areas such as hallways and cafeterias.
Classroom changes are being reduced and modifications made to lunch times to allow for cleaning and sanitizing between groups.
Children’s temperatures will be checked daily before they enter the schools, Waters said.
“It’s difficult. …,” he said. “We are in the business of educating, but over the next six months, we’ve got to make sure that our first priority is safety and health. We’ll get through it, but at the same time we’re going to make sure we’re as healthy and safe as possible and maintain our focus on education as much as we possibly can.”
Last Friday, Superintendent Dr. Bubba Longgrear posted a new video on the Candler County School District’s website, www.metter.org. He summarized his and the school board’s current plan, offering both traditional school and an online learning option for the school year still starting Aug. 3.
But parents who choose the virtual option will be required to receive some training themselves between Aug. 3 and Aug. 17, which is when virtual courses would actually begin. The Candler County system enrolls about 2,200 students at Metter Elementary, Metter Middle and Metter High School.
“Currently, this week, parents are being asked to contact each school to notify them if they are interested in the learning from home option that we are offering, and next week we’ll be scheduling conferences for each individual parent and child to meet with an administrator or counselor to set up an individual learning plan,” Longgrear said Tuesday on the phone.
Candler’s virtual plan is called Parent-Directed Learning from Home.
“We put that ‘parent-directed’ in there because it truly requires so much support from the home base, especially with the younger children, and even with the older children just from an accountability standpoint,” Longgrear said.
Parents and teachers will sign a contract spelling out the expectations. Then the mandatory training will introduce parents to the virtual platforms – Edgenuity for grades 6-12 and possibly SchoolsPLP for kindergarten through fifth grade – and how to access these.
In the video, Longgrear emphasizes the choice parents face in relation to the limited steps offered to protect people from COVID-19 exposure in face-to-face, traditional school.
Faculty and staff will encourage social distancing among students but realize that this will be “extremely challenging,” he says.
“It might be the barrier that says, you know, as a parent I don’t feel comfortable sending my child to school,” Longgrear adds in the video. “If that is the case, we’re going to make the most meaningful learning from home option that we can.”
Similarly, Candler County’s schools will encourage, but not mandate, masks and gloves for staff and students, and this may be a deciding point for some parents, he suggests.
As of midday Tuesday about 30 parents at Metter Elementary School and about 30 at Metter Middle School had requested the learning from home option and set up conferences.
“I see that increasing, but that’s where we are Tuesday at lunch with the week-long sign-up time,” Longgrear said.
The announced deadline was Friday.
The Screven County system, with one elementary, one middle and one high school in Sylvania, began with an Aug. 3 start date but postponed first by one week, roughly a month ago, and then on Monday by a second week, to Aug. 17.
This was mainly to prepare better for a virtual option, but also to accommodate some maintenance at the elementary school, said Assistant Superintendent Brett Warren.
Screven will use Edgenuity throughout its virtual program, supplemented by direct instruction from local teachers in the lower grades, he said.
Parents have until 5 p.m. July 22 to sign up for the SCSS Virtual Academy.
“We actually need to talk to those, each one individually, to make sure they know that’s what they want and they understand what they’re bargaining for, and some limitations with virtual that they might not have with traditional,” Warren said.
As of this week, more than 10% of the Screven system’s approximately 2,250 students were signed up for the virtual option, but a few parents who made that decision early on have changed their minds, he said.
Emanuel County Schools, consisting of six schools with about 4,200 students, will keep Aug. 3 as their opening date and traditional schooling as the default option, the school system confirmed in the ECS Reopening Plan, posted to its website Friday. If parents take no action, their children will be scheduled for in-person school.
But Friday’s announcement also opened the registration window for the ECS Virtual Academy, supported by Edgenuity but with school system employees as mentors. Parents have until July 29 to enroll children at www.emanuel.k12.ga.us.
Of all the surrounding school systems, Effingham County’s is most similar to Bulloch’s. Both have 15 campuses, but Effingham now has more students, a little over 13,000, while Bulloch has about 11,000. Bulloch, as previously reported, will start school in traditional and virtual options Aug. 17.
Effingham’s plan, to stick with its original Aug. 5 start date for face-to-face classes and at the same time add a virtual option, has been in development since the end of May. The decision dates from a board retreat in mid-June, said Superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford.
As of the original parental choice deadline, Wednesday, about 2,600 Effingham students had been registered for the virtual option, but after an extension, parents now have until Sunday.
At this point, Jenkins County’s school system has not changed plans for starting face-to-face school Aug. 3. But the Board of Education will meet Monday, with a new plan likely to be considered, said Gena Lane, administrative assistant to Superintendent Tara Cooper.