Pike County Schools explore three models for delivering education in the fall

Published 6:34 pm Friday, June 19, 2020

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What will “school” look like for students in Pike County this fall?

That’s a question with no easy answer, as school officials work to juggle health concerns and education requirements.

Dr. Mark Bazzell, superintendent of the Pike County Schools, said this week the district is exploring three ways to educate students whether or not they are allowed to return to school buildings.

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“As you know, the COVID-19 situation is one that continues to evolve,” he said. “As we progress through the summer and as this situation unfolds, Pike County Schools is prepared to make the necessary adjustments and take proactive steps to keep everyone as safe as we possibly can …

“If we cannot be in a traditional school situation, our goal and pledge … is to find the best way to safely and efficiently provide instruction to our students.”

Bazzell said the district expects to finalize its plans by July 17th, more than a month before the anticipated start date of Aug. 24.

“We have been working diligently on the reopening plan for Pike County Schools,” he said. “As you can imagine, many factors are under consideration which must go into such a plan and we are awaiting technical guidance needed to plan as effectively as possible.”

The district is also awaiting guidance from the state Department of Education. State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey is expected to share his guidance with superintendents at the State Superintendent Association meeting next week.

Meanwhile, Bazzell said the Pike County Schools expect to make three learning models available to parents next year.

“We will be incorporating blended instruction from the beginning of the year for all students,” he said. “In other words, we will begin to acclimate even in school, traditional students to virtual instructional delivery. This is critical since it is possible we could face another complete shutdown. We will need to be ready.”

The three models being explored will include:

• Traditional Learning Model. In this option, schools will open with enhanced safety precautions in place, such as increased hand sanitizer availability, more frequent cleaning of high touch areas, limited visitation to campuses, required face coverings and social distancing. “This approach mitigates the transmission of the COVID-19 virus,” he said.

• Blended (Hybrid) Learning Model. “This model will be a combination of distance and face-to-face instruction and will be offered in a variety of configurations,” he said. By utilizing this approach, both the students and the staff can be acclimated to distance learning in the event schools should need to close again due to virus spread. Bazzell said no matter the COVID-19 status, all students will have a degree of exposure to the blended model.

• Full Virtual (Distance) Learning Model. Students would have the choice of enrolling in one of two virtual options. The first would be managed by the Pike County Schools and would be used for all students to continue to learn new materials, continue standards pacing and assessments in a virtual environment should school facilities be forced to close. The second will be managed by the Alabama Department of Public Education and is available to parents who opt not to send students to school buildings in August. Anyone who is interested in this option is asked to respond to a survey no later than July 31, indicating that preference. The link for the survey can be found on the Pike County Schools website or you can participate via phone by calling 334-566-1850 and speaking with Diana Whitaker.

“We expect some parents may be reluctant to send their children back to school this fall. The online option  would be for these parents. I believe the number of parent’s who might be interested will depend on where we are at in terms of community spread of the COVID virus in August,” he said.

Bazzell said regardless of the method used for learning, all students will be considered enrolled in the Pike County Schools system.

He also said the challenges of trying to develop learning models that address unknown health challenges while serving student needs may lead to difficult decisions. “Everyone must understand there is no way for us to please everyone as these decisions are made,” he said. “However, our priority is to keep everyone safe while not making life more difficult for our parents.

“Many parents very much need thei children to be in school and we are going to do our very best to provide a safe environment. I know childcare is a very real issue for working parents.”

The district also must finalize plans for students who are medically compromised or at high risk of infection. “Parents of students with a higher risk of severe illness can contact their school administration to discuss any concerns,” he said.

And, Bazzell said, the district must address technology challenges with any virtual or distance learning model.

“Right now, we are working hard to identify and map the location of students without devices and internet. We are looking at a variety of options including the deployment of hotspots throughout the county to assist our students,” he said. “There continue to be many unknowns and the fluidity of this situation is challenging. We look forward to receiving additional guidance from the state.”