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Public school parents must choose how students will enroll for the 2020-2021 school year

Online or in-person? Virtual or traditional?

That’s the choice parents of public school students have to make as they register their children for the 2020-2021 school year.

As of Tuesday, both Pike County Schools and Troy City Schools were asking parents to choose whether they will send their children to campus for a traditional school setting or will keep children at home for a virtual learning program.

How should local schools approach the start of the 2020-2021 school year?

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Pike County Schools

“Right now, we need parents to tell us if they want to enroll their children in the virtual or online program,” said Dr. Mark Bazzell, superintendent of Pike County Schools. “If parents want to enroll children in the virtual program, they need to do so by calling 334-566-1850 extension 110 or by registering online … if we don’t have that registration, we’re going to assume your children will be attending the traditional classrooms.”

The deadline for registering for the virtual option is July 29 . Click here to download the district’s options for instruction. School Reopening One Pager (1).

Bazzell said about 65 percent of the parents who responded to an earlier survey indicated a preference for the virtual school option. “We didn’t get as much response as we’d hoped, but if we extrapolate that response out across our 2,200 students, we’d have about 1,400 to 1,600 kids doing the virtual program.”

Bazzell said that percentage is higher than he expected. “But what that tells me is that parents have found child care solutions, whether they’re not employed right now because of COVID or if they have found another solution …

“Either way, we’re getting staffed up and getting ready to provide instruction.”

Students will not be allowed to shift between the virtual and traditional platforms. Students enrolled in the virtual program will have until Sept. 4 to change back to a traditional learning model. After that, all students in the virtual learning model must enrolled in that model through December 2020.

When considering the options between a traditional learning environment and a virtual one, Bazzell said parents should consider several important factors.

“The traditional setting is full-time school, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. five days a week,” Bazzell said. “In addition to that, we will be requiring one virtual class session and two virtual assignments each week to help teachers and students become more familiar with the software, should we need to move to an online delivery (due to COVID-19).”

Parents can access details about what types of devices will be necessary through the district’s website. “We will have a limited number of devices available for lease to parents at an affordable rate,” Bazzell said. “We also have been working to get high speed internet to areas throughout the county and we have a good plan for that. Our 40-plus busses will all serve as hotspots, and we are working to get hotspots in some churches and volunteer fire departments as well.”

The district also is hiring an additional IT support employee to assist with technology issues.

Bazzell said parents who are concerned about internet access or about securing a device for their student can call the school board at 334-566-1850 for more assistance and information.

The Pike County Schools have outlined a minimum safety plan for students in the traditional setting that includes the following:

• Daily wellness screening including temperature checks and health questions.

•Face coverings will be required for all students, staff and visitors.

•Social distancing to include forward facing rows and elimination of flexible seating.

•Reduction in the use of soft surfaces, center activity.

•Breakfast and lunch will be served in the classroom.

•Staff and student training on best practices for self-care.

•Students will report to homeroom or first block to eliminate crowding.

•Student transitions will be minimized to reduce cross campus and cross school contacts.

•Assembly programs and field trips will have to be eliminated.

•Campus access limited to staff, students and interns.

•Parent contact would be by phone or virtual means only.

Transportation

•Face coverings required for all students, drivers and bus aides.

•Buses will be loaded from the rear to front, front to rear unloading.

•Buses will be sanitized between all trips.

•Students will be assigned seats and sit in family units.

• Make-up work required for all students missing school due to illness or quarantine.

“We’re having a series of meetings this week at the schools with a cross-section of parents and faculty members to finalize plans,” Bazzell said “We will have our detailed reopening plan ready to present to the school board on Aug. 10.”

Teacher in-service programs begin Aug. 12 and will be staggered over three days to allow for social distancing. “We’ll spend the remainder of the time before Aug. 24 working with the online platforms to make sure teachers and faculty are comfortable with them,” Bazzell said.

Parents who opt for the traditional schooling approach should be prepared to move to a virtual delivery method should health considerations warrant it. “We don’t have a series of benchmarks right now, because everything is changing so much,” Bazzell said. “But we will have to consider the situation in Pike County and make decisions based on what’s happening here.”

Significant increases in community spread of COVID-19, outbreaks across schools, or the designation of the county as a “high-risk” area by the Alabama Department of Public Health all could cause the district to shutter buildings and turn to virtual learning platforms.

“It’s a fluid situation,” Bazzell said.

Some students enrolled in academy programs may begin classes earlier than Aug. 24. Also, any parents of students with special needs or receiving special services and who have questions or concerns can reach out to Dr. Mark Head at 334-566-1850, Bazzell said.

The Pike County Schools website is http://www.pikecountyschools.net and the homepage includes links to the COVID-19 resources, plans and registration forms.

Troy City Schools

Parents of Troy City Schools students have until noon on July 24 to decide if they will enroll their children in a traditional or virtual learning platform for the 2020-2021 school year.

Details and links to the registration forms can be accessed at the district’s website, http://www.troyschools.net, or on the individual school websites.

Superintendent Cynthia Thomas said approximately 115 students in kindergarten through eighth grade have enrolled in the virtual learning program, as of Monday.

“For grades 9-12, we’ve had about 30 percent choose a virtual option, about 30 percent choose a blended option and 30 percent choose traditional learning, with about 10 percent unconfirmed,” she told the board of education.

Students who enroll in the traditional program will attend classes on campuses, where strict protocols regarding health and safety will be put in place. “We’re revising those as we await updated guidance from the state department of education,” Thomas said on Monday.

Previously, the district had said it would not require face coverings or masks for students and teachers, although the use of face coverings would be encouraged. Changes to pick up and drop off systems will be made to keep students from gathering in the hallways or in large groups, and meals will be eaten in classrooms, among other changes.

Students opting for the traditional model should be prepared to adjust should health concerns warrant.

“Our first step would be to move to a blended model,” Thomas said, explaining that the model would reduce the number of students on campus by 50 percent at any time. “Half the students would attend class on Monday and Tuesday. We’d clean the campus on Wednesday, and the other half would attend classes on Thursday and Friday.”

The next step after that would be to shift completely to virtual learning, as the district did earlier this spring when a state health order closed school campus.

“We will likely follow guidance from the Alabama Department of Public Health and consider our local situation” in making any decisions regarding shifting from a traditional to blended to full virtual model once the school year begins, Thomas said.

“We will have a meeting at the first of August to evaluate the situation,” she said.

Troy City Schools are scheduled to resume classes Aug. 20.

As part of the district’s ongoing services, each student enrolled traditionally or virtually will be assigned a Chromebook. “And we are working to help provide hotspots and internet access where needed.”

Parents who opt to enroll students in the virtual learning model must commitment to the first nine weeks of virtual education. “We will evaluate after that moving forward,” Thomas said.

Virtual learning will be provided via Access for grades 9-12 and via Edmentum and Schoology for lower grades. Students also will utilize Google Classrooms and other programs for access to teachers and resources, Thomas said.

Jonathan Cellon, TCS Board of Education president, acknowledged that educators will have difficult decisions ahead as they work in a fluid situation to educate children safely and effectively. “There is a process we’ll go through and while I’d like to automate any future decisions that have to be made, in a situation of this sort it may not be possible …

“We ask the public in advance to be understanding of the complexities of the situation.”