Boyle Schools choose to start new school year online

Published 11:12 am Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Boyle County Board of Education changed direction from a plan announced earlier this month and has decided that Boyle County students will begin the new school year participating in virtual education. 

The recommendation from Boyle County Schools Superintendent Mike LaFavers was approved by a vote of 3-1 during a meeting Tuesday evening, which was held virtually. 

“Our recommendation is that we begin the year virtually for all students,” Boyle County Schools Superintendent Mike LaFavers said. “We’ve been working on a virtual plan that is fantastic, and nothing short of that.” 

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Board member Ruth Ann Elliott was the lone “no” vote on the issue. Elliott said she arrived at her decision to vote “no” due to a lack of parent input on the topic. 

Earlier this month, the board approved a synchronous hybrid plan to start the school year, which allowed parents/guardians to choose whether their children would attend school in a traditional manner or participate in a virtual academy. 

Approximately 26 percent of students within the district opted for the virtual academy, LaFavers said. 

“When we were working on that plan, the case count in Kentucky was different and the case count in Boyle County was different, but it’s going up,” LaFavers said. “We originally thought the summer might slow the virus down some, and even just a few weeks ago when we presented that plan in a town hall, case counts have gone up and our local health officials have changed their advice to us some based on that.” 

The top priority is safety, LaFavers said. 

“Really, the most important thing is safety,” LaFavers said. “If you can’t create safety, you can’t guarantee learning. That’s always been the case since I’ve been in this profession and I think everyone on this call would tell you the same. You have to establish safety and that’s what is driving this decision. When you listen to our local health officials, this is the best move to create that safe learning environment.” 

LaFavers told the board they hope the entire school year will not have to be virtual, and district administrators are not planning for that to be the case. 

“We want to get that 74 percent who want to return to in-person learning back to school as soon as possible,” LaFavers said. “Our goal is not to just open, but be able to stay open.” 

Monitoring the progression of COVID-19 will be key moving forward, LaFavers said, and district officials will be paying close attention in an effort to safely return to a traditional education model. 

“We plan to monitor this situation frequently, if the board approves this plan,” LaFavers said. “As soon as it is safe for staff and students to change our plan and go back to the original plan, which is the synchronous hybrid plan, we plan to pivot to that as quickly as possible. We hope that maybe we could pivot to that, you know, if things change maybe in September at some point.” 

Board member Jesse Johnson said he knows this is not an ideal situation and hopes that students will be able to return to a physical school building soon, but added that he supported the idea. 

“I appreciate the hard work you all have been putting into this,” Johnson said. “I know this is not ideal for anyone and I would like to have our students in the classroom. I know you and your team have really thought this over and this is exactly, I guess, where we need to be right now.” 

Elliott questioned if there were other options that could be looked at such as delaying the opening day of school to early September. Elliott said the virtual option could be problematic for many working parents and reiterated that a significant majority of parents/guardians selected the physical school option as their preferred choice. 

“We have a lot of parents that have to work and I just worry about the difficulty that this will place on them,” Elliott said. “I appreciate the hard work you’ve done, but there are some downsides to this.”

LaFavers said the committee that was formed to examine how to return to school safely looked into the possibility of a calendar change, but said that only made sense if the effects of COVID-19 significantly lessened between now and the new proposed start date. 

“The issue you’ll run into there is the only way that’s a good idea is if we get a good handle on the coronavirus between now and whenever the calendar change is,” LaFaver said. “Otherwise, we’re just postponing the inevitable and pushing the year on down the road and compressing our schedule to where we limit our options as the year plays out.” 

LaFavers said a calendar change isn’t a bad idea and could theoretically work out, but it involves taking a gamble on how the situation with the virus plays out. 

The board also approved the purchase of 400 HP Chromebooks in the amount of $93,600 to provide devices for every student in the district. 

The funds to purchase the computers was already budgeted, according to Chief Information Officer Susan Taylor, but the board needed to hold a vote due to a change in vendor. 

The vote to approve the purchase of the computers was approved unanimously.