The Baldwin County Board of Education held a special called meeting Tuesday with only one voting item on the agenda.
Following the recommendation of Superintendent Dr. Noris Price, board members elected to push the start of the 2020-21 academic year to Wednesday, Aug. 19, for K-12 students. Some early release days for students have been eliminated to accommodate the change. Students and teachers are still scheduled to receive a full week off for fall break, Thanksgiving break and spring break.
This marks the second time the start of school has been pushed back for the Baldwin County School District (BCSD) as the term was originally slated to begin Aug. 3. The first delay to Aug. 10, was put in place to give school staff more time to prepare for the upcoming unconventional school year. The first day of school has been pushed back again due to a low response rate among parents in selecting an instructional model for their children. Parents were to choose between two models — traditional in-person learning or remote online through BCSD’s Baldwin Online Academy (BOA). Some parents cited having difficulty with accessing the online parent portal. There was also confusion as to whether online learning meant the self-guided BOA courses or remote learning similar to how students finished up last school year. BCSD enrollment is normally around 5,000 students, and fewer than half of their parents had responded as of Tuesday’s meeting.
“That will put us in a place to truly get a better handle on the numbers,” Price said of pushing the start date back again. “As of today (Tuesday), we had approximately 1,300 families that had chosen remote learning and another 700 for in-person. That’s less than half our student population, so we definitely need to reach out to parents, which is why I then requested a called board meeting to look at revising the calendar.”
Starting school Monday, Aug. 17, was initially put forward, but was ultimately changed.
“After consulting with our principals and APs (assistant principals), we came to the conclusion that we need to start in the middle of the week because it was a way to ease our students into transitioning back to school,” the superintendent said. “It will also give us time and the opportunity to fix anything that we would need to fix by having a shorter week.”
The latest start of school delay does not apply to the public school system’s youngest population. Georgia College’s Montessori Academy at the Early Learning Center (ELC) is set to begin its year Aug. 3, while all other ELC students are scheduled to report Aug. 10. Price said that ELC Director Lori Smith reached out to families recently, and parents of only 15 kids are electing to keep their children at home.
While parents are currently being given the option to choose traditional school attendance for their children, the superintendent has not declared that in-person will be a certainty yet. Worsening conditions with the COVID-19 pandemic could cause for system-wide remote learning. The school board is scheduled to meet again Aug. 11 at which time a decision could be made.
In the meantime, BCSD teachers are putting on another hat in addition to preparing for the two possible instructional models. The classroom leaders have this week been calling those parents who have not chosen a model to get their decisions. That data will aid the superintendent and board in making a final decision.
“That’s why it is critical for us to know where 100 percent of our students are going to be,” Price said.
BCSD has been preparing its facilities should in-person instruction be on the table for the start of school. New Deputy Superintendent Matt Adams reported to the board some of the measures being taken Tuesday.
“COVID-19 is mostly spread by droplets generated by coughing, sneezing, or talking, so the disinfecting of environmental surfaces is going to be paramount in moving forward,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to prevent the spread. That’s going to require everyone working together.”
Adams gave a rundown of the different cleaning products and application systems purchased by BCSD in recent months, including fogging equipment that will be employed in rooms where someone who has tested positive is known to have been. The school system also hired a local cleaning company to fog all buildings before teachers returned earlier this week.
“We are monitoring the spread of the virus in our community as well as the hospitalizations and the number of deaths,” said Price. “We’re working very closely with the [Department of Public Health] North Central Health District in getting safe guidance for a safe opening of our schools. They have reviewed our plan and given us guidance.”
Hearing no questions from school board members, Tuesday’s meeting was adjourned following the vote to have K-12 students start Aug. 19.