During a time when public school systems across the state are announcing reopening plans for the start of the 2020-21 school year, the Baldwin County School District (BCSD) is opting to take the wait-and-see approach a little while longer.
What has been decided, however, is that the start date for local public schools will be pushed back a week to Aug. 10. As for how students will learn, that remains up in the air.
The two options right are either a return to traditional school with students and teachers in buildings together or remote learning via the school district’s online platform, which is called the Baldwin Online Academy (BOA). A determination will be made closer to the start of school based on the level of COVID-19 spread in Baldwin County. The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) has given three designations for the level of spread in each Georgia county: low/no spread, minimal to moderate spread, and substantial spread. Baldwin County is currently classified as having substantial spread of the virus in the DPH weekly reports.
“If the cases continue to go up, and we continue to be substantial, the likelihood that we will end up doing school remotely will increase significantly,” Baldwin County School Superintendent Dr. Noris Price said.
“We want to make sure all of our staff members and teachers are ready for the type of remote learning that needs to take place during the school year,” she added on why pushing back the start date was necessary.
Parents who do not feel comfortable sending their children back to school, if that is an option, can enroll their kids in Baldwin Online Academy (BOA). One change from last school year is that BOA will be open to K-2 students where it was only available to those in grades 3-12 before. A form will be pushed out to parents this week asking them to declare whether they plan on enrolling their children in online learning or sending them back to school, again, if that’s on the table come August. That form will be made available online through Infinite Campus and an auto call will be sent out to let parents know about it.
Price initially presented three plans to the public during last week’s virtual town hall meetings: traditional school attendance, remote learning, and a hybrid model that would have split students up between learning at home and at school on alternating schedules. The hybrid model has been removed from the equation for the start of the school year at least. Price told school board members Tuesday during their teleconference meeting that too many working parents expressed concerns about finding childcare for the days their children would be at home to move forward in that way. The superintendent did not rule out a possible switch to the hybrid model should conditions with the COVID-19 pandemic change after the school year begins.
“It is not to say that we won’t be using the hybrid model,” said Price. “We could be using the hybrid model at some point during this pandemic.”
If the hybrid schedule is implemented, the superintendent said that children within the same family will be placed on the same schedule to make things easier for parents.
If students return to school in-person
If school starts back in August in a traditional manner, students will be required to wear masks on school grounds and while riding the bus. The same goes for teachers and staff, bus drivers included. Masks will not have to adhere to the BCSD dress code.
“If kids like their Mickey Mouse mask and it’s going to make them wear it, let them wear whatever mask it is,” Price said.
Several other measures will be taken to try and keep the novel coronavirus from spreading through the student and staff populations should anyone bring it into a building. Matt Adams, new deputy superintendent for the local public school system, laid out many of those measures during his portion of the presentation. Students and staff will be encouraged to wash their hands throughout the school day and hand sanitizing stations will be placed throughout school buildings. Buses will be disinfected after the morning and afternoon routes, and students will load back to front and unload front to back upon returning home. Buildings will be cleaned daily with special attention given to the high-traffic areas. Visitors to schools will be limited and are expected to wear masks as well.
If remote learning resumes
School families ought to be quite familiar with online learning since that’s how the 2019-20 term finished up once schools closed in March. If that route is taken again, however, Price said the standards will be higher. When online work was done from March to May, assignments could only help students’ grades, not harm them. Teachers will be more stringent with grading if that method is resumed.
BCSD has purchased licenses for all its schools to do BOA online coursework through Edgenuity rather than Pearson Connexus, the school district’s previous vendor.
“Their curriculum, courses and content align more with our goals for the school district,” BCSD instructional technology specialist Dawson Roberts said. “I think we’re getting something that will better support the needs of all of our students.”
Roberts said Baldwin County is ahead of the curve when it comes to having an online learning platform for its students.
“One of the things that brings me the most comfort is we’ve had an online remote learning program up and running for two years now,” he said. “There are many school districts that are working right now to get theirs up and started because of everything that’s going on. Our [BOA] students were pretty much unaffected when schools closed in March.”
A local task force totaling nearly 100 individuals from school- and district-level administrators to community leaders came together to produce these and many more details dealing with the return to school. District 4 board member John Jackson praised the work of Price and the task force in developing the plans.
“I’d like to thank you and all the individuals who have worked on this plan to bring our children back to school,” he said. “I know it’s been quite an endeavor.”