Editor’s Note: This is the third segment of a five-part series dealing with how the Butts County School System is preparing for a new school year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Butts County School System is asking parents to decide:

A. Do they want their children to continue to be schooled at home in virtual classrooms, similar to what happened in the spring when the COVID-19 pandemic kept schools closed and students at home?

B. Do they want their children to get the traditional face-to-face instruction with teachers in classrooms, albeit with COVID-19 restrictions such as social distancing and possibly face masks?

Parents can now go to the school system website — www.butts.k12.ga.us — to learn more and make their choice. The system installed a link on their webpage on July 2 called “Back to BCSS.”

Click on it and it will open another page with a letter from Superintendent Dr. Todd Simpson, information on what the state and school system are doing to prepare for the opening of school, and options to choose “Virtual Learning” or “Face-to-Face Learning.”

On the left side of the page are tabs to a timeline of important dates to remember, and a link to “Georgia’s Path to Recovery for K-12 Schools,” a document provided by the Georgia Department of Education (DOE) that provides guidance and makes recommendations to help school districts prioritize the health and safety of students and teachers.

There is also a link to information from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) on return to school guidance for parents if a student tests positive for the virus and is quarantined at home. Simpson said the return to school after a positive test is time-based.

“There is a specific quarantine period and this document lays out the parameters for when this clock starts and stops,” Simpson said. “A negative test is not someone’s ticket back to school; it is still time-based.”

There is also a link to DPH’s document on quarantine guidance.

Under those tabs are the Virtual Learning and Face-to-Face Learning options.

Virtual Learning

Dr. Simpson said the first application period started July 2 and ends July 17.

“The Virtual Learning tab starts out giving some bullet points about what parents and students can anticipate, has some frequently asked questions (FAQ), and then the application,” Simpson said. “We’re asking parents to fill out the application and commit to nine weeks at a time. That allows us time to organize our staff in such a way to meet those needs.”

Simpson added that parents who want their children to learn from home have to commit to the program.

“What we’re asking parents to do is partner with us to ensure that if they are choosing the virtual option, they will make sure that their student is adequately supervised, and that they have access to internet,” Simpson said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to have internet at home. They are assuring that they can get their child to a place where they can be supervised and access the internet for the time required to complete the work.”

This past spring, the school system deployed 10 buses equipped with wifi devices to areas of the county with poor service. With the donation of eight more wifi devices, they hope to provide even more coverage this fall. Students and parents can pull up to a site, download lessons or upload work, and then return home. The system will have the location of buses posted on its website.

“Once the parent submits the application, the principal of that school will evaluate the application and approve or disapprove it,” Simpson added. “Most of them will be approved. The things that we are looking for is for parents to have a plan to provide supervision, a plan to make sure their child has access to the internet, and for them to understand that they are going to commit for nine weeks at a time. Those are the three most important things that we need assurances on.”

One option parents had last spring that they won’t have this fall is being able to pick up packets of school work from in front of the schools. Simpson said in order to make the virtual learning work better, packets are not an option.

“Some of the digital components will actually be a teacher in front of a camera teaching live,” Simpson said. “We will also record it so it can be watched later. It is our goal that we improve the digital option from where we were in the spring. In order to take that step, we realize that we’ve got to deliver more of that kind of content, and it is not really possible to do it that way through packets.”

The first round of virtual learning applications has a deadline of July 17 in order to allow for the school system to organize its staff. But if parents decide they want to do virtual learning after the deadline, Simpson said the system will do everything they can to accommodate them.

“It may cause us some delay getting that student scheduled or into a classroom, but the reason that deadline is there is to give us time to plan,” he said. “Our top priority has to be let’s find out who wants the digital option because we have to arrange our staff. It is quite possible we may have some teachers who teach strictly virtual and some who teach strictly face-to-face. Some of the answers to that will depend on how many choose each option.”

Face-to-Face Learning

Parents can also choose the Face-to-Face option. There is no application for this option, but it also has a FAQ list, as well as a listing of needed supplies for school based on which school the child attends, and information on how to prepare children for returning to school in this time of COVID-19.

Simpson said there is a possibility that students may have to wear masks at school.

“Our approach is basically that it will depend on the level of transmission in our schools, and also on environmental factors,” he said. “There are times when it just makes sense, like when you have students in a smaller location, such as on a school bus, where we have to require masks. But it is difficult to have just one answer to that question.

“I would encourage students and parents to be responsive and cooperate with the request of the adults providing the leadership at the school,” Simpson added. “We’ll have to depend on our principals and teachers and other leaders to use their best judgement when it might be appropriate to put masks on.”

There is also a listing of the open house schedules under the face-to-face link. Simpson said parents should realize open houses will not be done as they have in the past, with hundreds of parents and students packing into schools and classrooms.

“It is just not going to be safe or feasible for us to do open house in the same manner that we normally do,” Simpson said. “We know how important it is, especially in the lower grades, for the parent and student to meet their teacher, but we want to do it in as safe a manner as possible.

“What we are planning to do is pair two grade levels together and do an outdoor meet and greet on the school campuses. For example, on the first day, we’ll set up tents for kindergarten on one side of the school in the parking lot, and for fifth grade on the other side. We’ll spread that out over several evenings. The high school will utilize the athletic facilities behind the school. It is safe, it is outdoors, and we’ll require everybody to wear a mask, with one grade level per time slot.”

Open House Schedules:

Elementary Schools:

♦ July 29 — Kindergarten and 5th Grade — 5:30-7:30 p.m.

♦ July 30 — Pre-K — 3-5 p.m.

♦ July 30 — 2nd Grade and 3rd Grade — 5:30-7:30 p.m.

♦ July 31 — 1st Grade and 4th Grade — 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Henderson Middle School

♦ July 21 — 6th Grade Tiger Camp — 8-10 a.m./12-2 p.m.

♦ July 22 — 6th Grade Tiger Camp — 8-10 a.m./12-2 p.m.

♦ July 29 — 7th Grade — 6-7 p.m.

♦ July 29 — 8th Grade — 7:30-8:30 p.m.

Jackson High School

♦ July 30 — 9th Grade — 6:30-8 p.m.

♦ July 30 — 10th Grade — 7:30-9 p.m.

♦ July 31 — 11th Grade — 6:30-8 p.m.

♦ July 31 — 12th Grade — 7:30-9 p.m.

Parents and students who chose the virtual learning option will not attend open house and will have a separate orientation, depending on how many choose virtual learning.

School begins Aug. 4.

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