A plan to reopen schools in Giles County on Aug. 3 has been approved under the provision that it may need adjustments as COVID-19 requirements change.
The Giles County Board of Education approved the reopening plan proposed by Director of Schools Vickie Beard and the school system staff during its regular meeting July 2. Beard provided more information about the plan at last week’s meeting.
“All students and staff will be welcomed to and encouraged to take advantage of our facilities being open,” she said. “We will be providing a virtual learning platform to our students who choose to not be physically in school. There will be no cost to students to enroll in that virtual platform, and as long as they remain Giles County students they will be provided with the device to access that platform.”
Beard said virtual students will get the Tennessee Aligned Curriculum Standards and assessments. Virtual learning will include a virtual teacher, virtual mentor and Giles County School System support.
Grades earned through the virtual platform will be calculated in the same manner as traditional grades and will serve the same purpose for earning credits, promotion to the next grade level, class rank, scholarship eligibility and other areas requiring grades.
Beard said parents and students will need to make a commitment to attend an informational meeting either virtually or in person.
Except for medical emergencies, Beard said students wishing to transfer between virtual and traditional school will only be allowed to do so at the end of grading periods, which is every nine weeks.
Beard stressed that the virtual platform is not a stand-alone virtual school. Students are still considered students of the schools in which they would have been enrolled or would have attended in person.
Under the plan, principals will be given the authority to place teachers and staff members in roles and assigned duties that best meet the academic and social and emotional needs of the students, Beard said.
She also restated the state board of education’s requirement that all students attend school for 180 days at six and-a-half hours per day. However, students will not be expected to be on computers for that entire time. Beard said the reasonable expectation is that students will spend three to three and-a-half hours per day on the virtual platform. The remainder of their time can be spent completing projects, doing assignments, assessments, attending virtual meetings with teachers or studying, she added.
“All attendance policies will be enforced for regular school attendance with consequences in place,” Beard said. “Virtual will be required to access curriculum daily and complete assignments in a timely manner. There still is an attendance piece to the virtual platform that is recognized by the state board of education.”
During last week’s meeting the school board was informed that grant funding will be used to purchase 650 computers to ensure all students, grades PreK-12, have a computer.
“The only thing that they really have to consider is that they have a viable internet connection or access to Wi-Fi,” Beard said. “That’s one of the main things they are going to have to consider for the virtual platform.
“If parents choose to keep a student at home, we need to know that at the school level or here at the Central Office so that we can begin setting up our training sessions, because there will have to be a very short training session for the students and parents for that virtual platform.”
Beard stressed that Giles County’s schools will be cleaned daily and everyone entering schools will be screened with temperature monitoring, visitor logs, isolation areas in every building, sanitation stations along with other safe and healthy practices.
Masks will not be required in schools or on buses, but are acceptable for students and staff who want to wear them, Beard said.
School system staff will be meeting with principals in the coming days to set more detailed plans in place.
“We are very confident at the Giles County School System that we can make this new look to education successful for the students in our community,” Beard said. “We are going to make this work.”
The board approved the school reopening plan as proposed unanimously.
School board member Knox Vanderpool raised the issue of school building renovations, specifically those that deal with the environment.
“You can’t help but acknowledge that elephant in the room of trying to get fresh air, trying to get clean air, trying to get systems in place that would help ionize the germs,” Vanderpool said. “However the best, most economical and efficient way would be to know you’re potentially breathing the best possible air and not just the recirculation of higher carbon dioxide, germs and everything else, which seems to be the case depending on the schools.”
Vanderpool said he would like to see the school board address the issue of hiring the Energy Savings Group (ESG) which was among the companies that presented schools renovations proposals recently. ESG has been working with the school system for more than two years on plans for improving the learning environment at all Giles County schools as well as other upgrades.
“We all know it can’t be done in a month and we all know we can spin our wheels for another year or two going through the processes of trying to figure this all out,” he said. “We can wish and we can hope, but we are going to bring these kids back to school and we’re going to have to deal with the monster we’ve been dealing with. I just want to give parents the best sense of safety that we can. I think we can do a better job of that and I think that task is still in front of us, but I think we’ve got some things in place where if we can get some people to act on it we can start moving.”
Several board members expressed their agreement with Vanderpool’s suggestion.
The matter of school improvements and upgrades is scheduled to be on the agenda for the school board’s Tuesday, July 14, work session. The work session will be held at the Central Office beginning at 5 p.m.