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Southard discusses tentative plan for new school year

In Education, Local, News by Lee Bratcher

The Ohio County Board of Education and Superintendent Seth Southard discussed instruction options for students for the upcoming school year during the COVID-19 pandemic at its regular meeting last week. (Image from video by Dustin Bratcher/Ohio County Monitor)

By Lee Bratcher/OC Monitor

HARTFORD, Ky. — Last week Ohio County Schools Superintendent Seth Southard began talking about the tentative plans for starting the new school year. However, Southard is confident plans are likely to change.

On the Ohio County Public Schools Facebook page, Southard laid out the basics of how the new school year would proceed. At this time, the school year will begin Aug. 26 and there will be three ways to offer instruction to students.

The first way will be for students to attend school for in-person classes, or the traditional way. The second way would be for students to be instructed remotely, the virtual/online way. Students will learn through Odysseyware or Google Classroom. The third way would be non-traditional instruction, though Southard wants NTI to be a last resort.

“We believe that the traditional setting is the best form of instruction; however, we will work with you to meet your family’s needs,” Southard said on Facebook. “If neither of these options work for you, and you still have concerns, please contact us at the (Ohio County) Board of Education.”

For those choosing in-person classroom instruction, the schools will be following guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control. Masks will be made available and be required, unless social distancing can be used. Southard hopes that once the schools have a better idea of the number of students in class, the opportunity to practice social distancing during classroom instruction, rather than wearing masks, will present itself.

Each day before entering school, students’ temperatures will be checked. Hand sanitizer will be provided to each classroom and many opportunities for students to wash their hands will be available.

Included with the update on the new school year, was a survey for parents and guardians. The survey will help the Board of Education get an idea of what parents are thinking about the upcoming school year.

At last Thursday’s meeting of the Ohio County School Board, Southard said over 1,000 people had taken the survey by that time. One of the questions asked parents if their child would be attending school for in-class instruction. The available answers were yes, no and I do not have enough information.

Of those who took the survey, 48 percent answered yes to the question, while 30 percent needed more information.

For the 30 percent who need more information, Southard realized he needed to provide more information about how virtual/online instruction will work.

Another survey question was about the school format the parent preferred. The answers were 100 percent remote learning program or 100 percent in-person in the school building. About 54 percent of the respondents choose in-class in-person in the school building, while 46 percent of those surveyed wanted a remote learning program.

Southard realized he needed to better explain remote learning to some of the parents. Remote instruction would be virtual/online and not NTI as it was the last school year.

In the next two weeks, Southard plans to clarify what “virtual” means for those who are uncertain and issue an online application for virtual instruction.

Included in the online application for virtual instruction will be questions about high-speed internet access, device availability, such as a computer, laptop, iPad, etc. Southard said the Board of Education would provide a device for those who wished to have virtual instruction, but had no device.

At last Thursday’s meeting of the Ohio County School Board, Southard reminded board members and those in attendance that plans could, and would, probably will change in the future.

“It continues to be an unusual summer. A Summer unlike any we’ve been a part of, with all the planning and coordinating we’ve been trying to do, trust me, we’re doing it each and every day,” Southard said.

Southard explained each week the Board of Education receives updates from the Kentucky Department of Education, as well as the state of Kentucky. For that reason, plans are changing all the time.

“Things are ever-changing. Some of the guidelines we received in June are not the guidelines we have today,” Southard said.

Due to the “ever-changing” guidelines, the Board of Education is being patient in how it rolls out the plans for the next school year.

“We’re trying to hold some of these plans closer to our chest, just because we’d hate to keep issuing, ‘Here’s a new plan’ and ‘Here’s a new plan,'” Southard said.

Extracurricular activities are still in place, according to Southard, but there are strict guidelines that have to be followed. As for sports, Southard didn’t sound confident fall sports would start with the new school year, but the Kentucky High School Athletic Association is meeting later this month to discuss the current situation.

“Our goal is to provide the best and safest education we can during this difficult time,” Southard said.

During last week’s school board meeting, Southard went into a bit more detail on the upcoming school year, going over the types of instruction offered and some of the guidelines students and staff will have to follow.

After discussing the instruction types and expressing his belief that in-person instruction was better for the student, he also informed the school board of his gut feeling about the upcoming school year.

“At some point and time, (the state) is going to say, ‘You need to shut down,’ or we’re going to say, ‘Because of our numbers, we need to shut down and we’re going to have to do NTI for the next two weeks,'” Southard said. “But when we do that, I want it to be different. If health guidelines will allow it, I still want our staff to come to work. They can mask up, come in the classroom and shut their door and take their mask off. I still want them to teach in front of the computer, in front of the camera and any kid in the district that has a phone that can get data or internet or whatever, they can still watch and say, ‘Hey, I can still see Ms. Noffsinger and she’s going to teach me two hours a day.’ I want us to have that direct instruction and only do NTI paper if (the students) don’t have that capability.”

To view the point in the meeting where Southard discusses the upcoming school year more in-depth, click here.

The highlights of Southard’s details are below.

— The school board approved motions to amend the school calendar and to approve the 2020/2021 instructional options.

— Southard told the school board the overall plan for reopening would be released in August. Southard believes there will be plenty of new guidelines handed down over the next six weeks.

— The first instructional option is traditional in-person instruction. Southard said the Board of Education had procedures for everything, such as picking up students, dropping off students, hallway procedures, etc.

— Students will be required to wear masks to be worn, unless students can be socially distanced. If around half the students choose remote instruction, Southard believes there is a chance for social distancing in classrooms and masks can be removed if the students chose to. However, outside of class, moving in class, on the bus, masks must be worn at all times.

— The Board of Education will figure out a lunchroom strategy so students can remove masks to eat lunch. There will also be strategies for where to put masks when not covering the face. To better help maintain social distance at the high school, some students will eat in the gym.

— The KDE recommends all school hallways be one direction. This is done to limit or stop the opportunities of students have of passing each other. Southard said that would be “impossible” in some schools. However, it might be possible in the Ohio County High School and Ohio County Middle School.

— The Board of Education is planning to order around 1,200 gallons of hand sanitizer for the school year with a gallon in every classroom. More will be ordered through the school year.

— The second instructional option is virtual/online. Southard realizes he needs to explain more about the option and the software to be used called, Odysseyware.

— Odysseyware is a program used at OCHS for students who get behind. Those students can take an entire course using the software. Odysseyware will be used from kindergarten through 12th grade this school year. Kindergarten through 2nd grade the program is called Spark by Odysseyware and 3rd grade through 12th grade is Odysseyware. Most courses offered by Ohio County Schools is offered through the software.

— Staff will be assigned to watch the progress of those students choosing virtual/online instruction. Parents will be made aware I there are any issues with the student’s learning. If the student has questions, the staff will be able to help provide answers.

— With virtual/online, students can go at their own pace to a certain extent. For example, a student will not be able to finish a class that should take the whole school year in a matter of weeks. The lessons can be “throttled” down if needed. However, Southard believed with seven courses it would be hard to complete year-long courses in nine weeks’ time.

— The third instructional option is NTI or non-traditional instruction. This is the instruction students received after school was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Southard didn’t was NTI for this school year to be like it was during the last school year.

— Southard wanted this year’s NTI to run like the Board of Education’s home/hospital instruction. Every week new material will be sent to the home and the previous week’s material will be collected. Southard wanted to see weekly interaction between the student and the school.

— NTI will only be offered if parents/student will not do in-person classroom instruction or virtual/online instruction.

— Students who choose the virual/online instruction option may not be able to take part in extracurricular activities or sports, but a final decision hasn’t been made as of yet.

“If you ask me tonight, I’d say my recommendation is, absolutely not. If they can’t come to school, they don’t play sports,” Southard said.

Southard was ready to move forward with his recommendation, but when he attended the regional school superintendents meeting, many had decided to allow students learning at home to participate in extracurricular activities and sports. Southard is going to wait until the next meeting before making his decision.

In the end, Southard believed the KHSAA could cancel fall, and perhaps, winter sports, so his and the other school superintendents’ decisions will be made for them.

— Southard made sure to point out that the options he wanted the school board to approve were subject to change.

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