A framework for opening Giles County Schools on Aug. 3 was presented to the Board of Education by the school system staff and administration.
With scenarios locally and statewide changing frequently, completely detailed plans for reopening could not be presented at the school board’s work session, Tuesday. However, more information is expected over the next few days and the board is expected to consider the plan at its next meeting Thursday, July 2.
“We want you to understand that we are going to have schools open,” Giles County Assistant Director of Schools Keith Stacey said. “Our buildings will be open and it would be our hope that students will come back. We want as many students in our buildings face-to-face with their teachers as normally as possible.”
Stacey said results of a recent survey by the school system indicate that most Giles County students are very likely to return to physical attendance in schools, but there are also some students who will not. In that case, he said virtual, or remote, learning will be made available by the school system.
“If you choose not to come back to school that doesn’t mean there won’t be school,” Stacey said. “The state school board voted to have remain in effect the 180 instructional days required and six and a half hours of instruction per day. All students, whether they go to virtual school or come to school, will be required to be in school for 180 instructional days for 6.5 hours per day.”
With that reality in mind, the Giles County School System is preparing to enter the 2020-21 school year on Aug. 3 with a blended learning model that allows for as many students who choose to do so to physically attend schools and those who choose not to attend physically to use a virtual learning platform the school board is also expected to consider July 2.
Stacey said the 73 percent response rate to the survey by parents in Giles County has made it possible for the school system to put together the plan it has. He commended those who have responded and reminded those who have not they can still do so.
Key to have students learning in a face-to-face environment includes reconfiguring layouts and schedules to provide as much social distancing as is reasonably possible, Stacey said.
Other concerns that have been considered include what a student’s daily schedule looks like and how to monitor movements.
“We want to emphasize to our parents that when you send your students to school this fall that they come under control,” he said. “I know they’ve been missing one another and they’re going to want to high five, hug one another and embrace, but we have to control our movements in the hallway and that control is not all on the shoulders of principals and teachers. Our students are going to have to behave in a way that helps us be able to pull off some of these socially distant things.”
Stations to monitor health and scan temperatures will be set up for everyone entering schools and the number of visitors in schools will be limited, according to Stacey.
Cleaning protocols will be in place at all schools. Students will be expected to wash their hands regularly and signage will be used throughout the school buildings.
If someone becomes sick on campus, isolation areas will be provided along with protective equipment. From that point appropriate steps will be taken, Stacey said.
As for bus transportation, Stacey said, as always it is the student’s choice whether to ride the bus or not. Those who do will have assigned seats and will be required to keep their personal items and devices stowed away.
Buses will be disinfected after every route.
An aspect of the in-school model, according to Stacey, would be preparing students for the virtual model while they are in schools in case individual students move from in person to virtual and in the case of a systemwide suspension of the in-school model.
Another aspect Stacey mentioned is the possibility of a day, or half day, in the middle of the school weeks to have students attend schools virtually. The benefits he mentioned are allowing teachers to get the needed virtual learning training, allowing students to get acquainted with virtual learning and allowing custodial staff the opportunity to perform weekly in-depth cleaning.
The E-Day, Stacey said, would not necessarily be needed throughout the entire school year.
Stacey asked any parents who are not going to send their child to schools, or those who are still aren’t sure, to call their child’s school by July 10.
“Those students will be on a remote learning platform, which we will provide,” Stacey said. “There will be no cost to families to participate virtually. We will provide a platform. All we ask is you let us know by July 10. This gives us a few days prior to the start of school to find out where these students go to school, how many seats we have to buy in a virtual platform, create connections between the school and them.”
Virtual learning, Stacey said is going to require training for all involved — students, staff and parents.
“I want parents to understand that if they choose to do a virtual school you’ve got to know how to do it,” he said. “You’ve got to know how to sign on, what classes you’re going to put your kid in, all of that. We need parents’ help to do all of this.”
The training and support are going to be made available, Stacey added, but parents, teachers and students are going to have to be actively involved in the learning process.
He also added that virtual learning students will not be expected to sit in front of screens for six and a half hours each day. Students may spend two or three hours of screen time while the remainder of their virtual school time is completing projects, doing homework or even physical exercise.
Honor codes and policies will be developed for virtual learners, with Stacey adding that the proposed virtual platforms allow teachers to see what students are, or are not, doing.
The school system’s planning also includes a scenario in which schools are closed and all students move to a virtual learning model.
“We’ve got to be ready for it,” Stacey said. “The state is not going to excuse school attendance, school learning, etc. We’re not going to play school if we have to go all virtual. We’re going to be in school. We have to have a platform in place. We have to have our students trained. We have to have our parents trained. We have to have our teachers trained.”
Many of the details and scenarios connected to an all virtual model are not yet in place, Stacey said, adding that it would only happen if the state or local government required it.
“I don’t think we’re going to start the school year all virtual,” he said. “Could we start the year virtual? Absolutely. I want to emphasize that we want students in our buildings. We’re ready for that.
“We owe our students, we owe our parents, we owe our community the best education that we can give them,” Stacey continued. “We are not excused, nor do we want to be excused, from being able to offer that just because we’re not in school.”
School system staff and administration presented other considerations and plans for students under all models in the areas of academics, learning gap analysis, student and teacher evaluation, parent engagement, social and emotional health, professional training and more.
“We have put a lot of time in this,” Director of Schools Vickie Beard said to the board at the end of the almost two-hour presentation. “We’ve all worked together. We’ve really come together on this and the leadership team has really put in a lot of work in getting this together.”
Beard asked the board to consider at its July 2 meeting approving the opening of schools on Aug. 3, approving a virtual platform, approving the use of teachers in different ways and looking at attendance policies as they relate to the possible E-Day.
The school board is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Thursday, July 2, at the Central Office.
Links to the entire schools reopening presentation can be found at the school system website gcboe.us or by clicking these links: