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Franklin County looks to next semester to expand in-person classes

Franklin County looks to next semester to expand in-person classes

The Franklin County School Board heard an assessment Oct. 26 of what it would take to have students back in the classroom for at least four days a week under pandemic conditions.

The board’s consensus, ultimately, was that conditions aren’t right for making that leap, at least not yet. Schools Superintendent Mark Church recommended setting a goal to make that change next semester as opposed to implementing it for the second nine weeks.

Board Vice Chairman Jeff Worley pointed out that the county is the midst of a surge in COVID-19 cases. “We’re in the red,” he said.

The impetus for the Oct. 26 presentation and discussion came from the board’s Oct. 12 meeting. After sharing anecdotes of frustrated parents, overwhelmed teachers, and students failing to keep up with online coursework, the board tasked the school administration with assembling a plan that outlined how to hold in-person classes four or five days a week while also offering virtual instruction.

At present, the school system is mostly operating on a hybrid schedule. For the students on that schedule, half attend classes in person Monday and Tuesday, and the other half attend Thursday and Friday, with virtual classes on all remaining weekdays. Some special education students attend four days a week.

According to staff presentations at the Oct. 26 meeting (held at the school board office and livestreamed on YouTube), combining the Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday students so that all attend at the same time would make it impossible to keep desks 6 feet apart, the recommended distance for impeding the transmission of the virus, and in some classes even having desks 3 feet apart would not be possible. The change would also make maintaining social distancing on buses extremely difficult for most routes and impossible for some.

“We’re in the proverbial ‘caught between a rock and a hard place,’” said P.D. Hambrick, who represents the Union Hall district. “We’re just in a situation right now where, you know, we’re doing the best we can with what we have. We’re kind of shooting in the dark and hoping we hit the target.”

Church said that with the help of grant funding, the school system has given out more than 90 internet hot spots to families, and is looking to distribute more. “It is helping some. I can’t help folks who don’t have a data signal at all. We’ve had families that have connected with us and we are seeing some success with that.”

The board also heard from staff about efforts to help parents who are having difficulty with the virtual platforms, including home visits by principals.

“We’re not going to change,” conceded Snow Creek Representative G.B. Washburn, who had been arguing for making the switch to five days in the second nine weeks. “From the conversations tonight, there’s a lot of positive things that are being done.”

In December 2019, Church announced that he intended to retire in August, but in March, when the COVID-19 crisis began in earnest, he agreed to stay on through December of this year. The school board scheduled interviews from Oct. 13 through Monday in the search for his replacement.

The Franklin County School Board heard an assessment Monday of what it would take to have students back in the classroom for at least four days a week under pandemic conditions. The board’s consensus was that conditions aren’t right for making that leap, at least not yet.

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