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Newton BOE hears plan for 2021-22 virtual instruction option
Self-paced online model to be available for students grade 3-12
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COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County students will again be given an option for how they’re educated next year.

Newton County Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey said the district would allow students to choose between traditional, in-person instruction or a virtual program.

The virtual option will be limited to one type of program that's self-paced, Fuhrey said. The district has opted to move away from what she called a “school-based virtual model,” where some students would attend classes in-person and other students would take the same class virtually. Fuhrey said she and other administrators heard from teachers “loud and clear” that the school-based virtual model was quite difficult for teachers and not preferred.

“We listen to our teachers, and we do our best to provide options for our families as well,” she said during the Tuesday, March 16, board of education meeting.

In the event disease spreads and the community transmission rate skyrockets, Fuhrey said the district could revisit the model, but only if absolutely necessary.

“It is definitely my hope that we will not have the same sorts of impacts that we had this school year, because it has been a really challenging year for our families, our communities and especially for our students,” Fuhrey said.

Fuhrey said the district would soon be sharing more information about contingency plans for the 2021-2022 school year, but alluded that it would not consist of returning to an all-virtual model. Rather, it would use an “A-B model,” where students whose last names begin with "A” through “L” and students “M” through “Z” would alternate the days they attended in person. Fuhrey said this would be the first plan before resorting to an all-virtual setting.

For 2021-2022, the lone, self-paced, virtual option will look a bit different from last year’s options.

In a presentation to the school board, Chief Academic Officer Benjamin Roundtree said the virtual option would only be for students in grades 3-12.

For elementary students, grades 3-5, Roundtree said the curriculum would consist of teacher-created modules following district curriculum maps and pacing.

For secondary students, grades 6-12, he said the curriculum would be pre-packaged through the Edgenuity program with access to a certified teacher.

Staffing for the virtual, self-paced option would include a program leader, registrar/administrative assistant, success coach (counselor), technology support specialist and teachers.

Devices will be provided for all students; however, families must have reliable internet access that’s provided by the student’s household in order to have their child participate in the virtual option. The district will not provide hotspots for students again this year.

Students’ parents must also show their commitment by serving as a learning coach and monitoring the student’s progress; attending quarterly conferences; and ensuring the student attends live sessions and meets weekly attendance requirements.

Roundtree advised any potential students interested in choosing the virtual option should possess the following characteristics: being independent, organized and disciplined; and having good reading and comprehension skills and time management skills.

Once a students opts into the virtual instruction mode, Roundtree said they would not be able to transition back to in-person until the end of the semester. He said the staff would “show compassion” and likely operate on a case-by-case basis if life-altering changes prompted a student’s request to change their instruction format.

Some courses and specialty programs, such as STEM, ALANHS, JROTC, band and chorus, will not be offered through the virtual option. CTAE courses will be limited.

After posing several questions about the virtual option, board member Shakila Henderson-Baker suggested Roundtree and staff clarify to parents and students that if they choose this option, "virtual instruction will be entirely self-paced,” and “a teacher will not be sitting directly in front of your student.”

Teachers will be available for support, but their primary role will be to grade students’ work, give feedback to students and their families, and provide designated office hours for students to meet with them either one-on-one or in small groups. In grades 3-5, teachers will create the curriculum modules.

Board member Trey Bailey echoed Henderson-Baker by saying the district needed to strive toward being as open and as honest as possible when rolling out information on the virtual option.

“Personally, I love the choice that some students will have,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a choice for everyone, and I just want us to make sure we’re also clear on that. That it may not be an equitable solution for everyone, but in this case, maybe that’s OK? I don’t know … I just think that would be important for us to say that … this is self-paced, this is not going to work for everybody, and somebody’s going to get left out, but it doesn’t mean we’re not trying to create a [positive] situation for all students. This one just might not work.”

Roundtree said the district anticipated opening the online registration portal for the virtual instruction application April 19 and allow it to remain open through April 30. He encouraged parents and students to reach out to their respective school counselors for guidance to determine if virtual instruction is best for them. Families of students with special needs were encouraged to correspond with the Individualized Educational Plan team if interested in virtual instruction.

Once the registration period ends, families and students will receive an acceptance notification via email May 14. Students will be allowed to pick up devices and other instructional materials July 23-30.

Virtual Open House is scheduled for July 27-29 from 5-7 p.m. each night for elementary, middle and high school students, which will be geared toward further preparing them for the virtual option.

No actions were taken by the board pertaining to the virtual option plan.