With new COVID-19 cases at or near record levels and the first day of school looming, parents are wondering how and when school will begin.

  This year parents will have two options for how their child or children will attend classes. The first is traditional classroom attendance with an in-person teacher. The second is distance, or online learning.

   “The George County School District continues to monitor the daily release of information and recommendations surrounding COVID-19,” said Superintendent Wade Whitney. “We use this information and data to make the most educated and informed decision as possible.”

   One of those decisions this week was to delay the start of classes by one week.

  George County School District classes will not resume on August 6 and 7 as reported last week. Traditional student classes will begin one week later on August 12 and August 13. Those students whose last names begin with the letters A through I will begin school on Wednesday, August 12. Students whose last names begin with the letters J through Z will begin school on Thursday, August 13. All traditional students will attend classes on Friday, August 14.

  Or, parents may choose to keep their child or children at home for home schooling or distance learning.

  “Distance learning will take place through the Google Classroom platform,” Whitney explained. “Students will not be issued packets - they will have the same assignments and grading as in the traditional classroom.  Distance learners will follow the same standards-based curriculum as traditional student learners.  If the distance learning request is approved, the student may not return to the traditional school setting during the same semester the distance learning is chosen.  Also, if a student participates in distance learning, the student cannot participate in any extracurricular activities at their local school.  For further information about distance learning, please visit your local school or visit our Distance Learner Q&A on our website at www.gcsd.us.

   For Whitney, the traditional classroom learning option is clearly preferred.

   “Classroom instruction - led by a certified professional educator - in the traditional classroom setting is so very crucial to the success of students,” he said.  “Being able to deliver instruction to small groups in the traditional classroom setting, teachers are able to provide specific instruction that attempts to meet the individualized needs of all of the students.  Also, in a traditional classroom setting, teachers are able to close gaps, provide support, and reteach standards, as needed.  

   “To be quite frank, distance learning is not the best way to meet the individual needs of students.

   “In the traditional classroom setting,” he continued, “teachers are able to see the student's reactions and expressions while teaching.  Distance learning does not adequately offer this opportunity.  Many times, a teacher can determine if their students understand new concepts simply by observing the students.  These observations allow the teacher opportunities to set the pace or teach concepts in different ways.  With distance learning, the teacher has less opportunities to see the students and make these necessary adjustments.

  “Statistics show that students learn best by participation, engagement and having the opportunity to ask questions,” he said.  “In a traditional classroom setting, students are afforded these opportunities.  If students are working from home, these opportunities are exponentially less frequent.  

  “Let's be very clear - I personally believe that there is absolutely no comparable substitute for in-person, face-to-face classroom instruction led by a certified professional educator.”

  Whitney said he is aware some parents are genuinely concerned about sending their children back to school during this pandemic. State law requires children ages six through 17 to attend school in one of three ways – private school, home schooling or public schools. Whitney added he believes public schools offer children numerous real advantages which he listed.

  Public schools offer free breakfast and lunch to all students, provide opportunities for involvement in extracurricular activities, offer instruction from a highly-qualified certified staff, offer exposure to diverse populations, provide high level academic classes such as:  dual credit college classes, advanced placement courses, electives, and Career and Technical classes, are held accountable by the state for academic performance, provide services for students with disabilities, increased opportunities for college scholarships and finally, is free.

  For those parents who are reluctant to put their child or children back into a classroom until this virus is under control, the school district is offering distance learning or home schooling.

  “Distance learning, however, is much more than video lessons,” Whitney explained. “Again, to be clear, distance learning is not ‘learning packets.’ With distance learning, teachers may use an online learning platform like Google Classroom for students to access videos, files and notes.  Certified, GCSD instructors monitor student progress, assess students based on the state standards, make notes, comment, and edit student work.  Teachers can also post announcements for students - and students are able to comment.  GCSD teachers are also able to invite distance learners to a Google Meet where students may be able to still take part in a live virtual class and communicate with the teacher.

  “Due to the heightened safety and health concerns surrounding the increase in the

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 number of COVID-19 cases in our surrounding area, we have reevaluated our application process for Distance Learning. Effective immediately, we will be accepting Distance Learning Non-Medical Applications from all interested students. Medical documentation is no longer required to apply for Distance Learning. The application may be picked up from your local school or downloaded from the district website. The completed application must be submitted to the local school no later than Thursday, July 30, 2020. We strongly encourage interested parents and students to carefully read all the application guidelines and requirements prior to making a decision.”

  The completed application for distance learning must be submitted to the local school no later than Thursday, July 30. Classes for distance learners will begin on Monday, August 17.

  Because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, the situation remains fluid, according to Whitney.

  “GCSD's first priority will always be the safety and well-being of our students and staff,” he said.  “We have implemented extra sanitizing protocols at each school and will be providing extra training for staff members in the upcoming weeks.  We are strongly recommending masks be worn by both staff and students - we are not requiring masks at this time.  We have ordered extra cleaning supplies and they should be installed and delivered before students and staff return to school.  Each school will also be taking the temperature of each student and staff, each day.

  When someone tests positive for the virus, the following action is going to be taken, he said.

   “At this time, the GCSD is requesting any employees or students who test positive for COVID-19 to notify the school principal or direct supervisor immediately upon receiving a positive COVID-19 test result,” he said.  “Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 will be quarantined from school for least 14 calendar days and/or until the individual has been fever or symptom free for 72 hours.  Parents will be notified of any student who may have been in close contact with any positive COVID-19 individual.  Upon notification, the GCSD requests monitoring of symptoms for 72 hours before returning to school.  Parents will be notified via letter from the local school and/or district office.

 “As the school year advances, procedures within the GCSD are subject to change in accordance with state regulations and CDC guidelines.”

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