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Boyle County Schools to reopen for hybrid learning ;
New middle school construction complete for reopening

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said there would be a new road between the middle and high school. This was the incorrect location for the road. The Advocate-Messenger regrets the error.

At a Boyle County Board of Education meeting on Sept. 17, the board voted unanimously to return Boyle County Schools to a hybrid, or virtual and in-person, model on Sept. 30. Boyle County Preschool will reopen on the same date with A/B days, which the board also voted unanimously on.

The new Boyle County Middle School, which celebrated a small ribbon cutting on Sept. 17, will be open to students by Sept. 30, with a new road to help control traffic on Perryville Road open by then as well, said Superintendent Mike LaFavers in an email.

Prior to the board’s decision on a hybrid reopening on Sept. 30, a teacher survey was conducted that was broken into three categories: what the district has done right as they’ve been pursuing virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, what the district could have done better and what teachers’ thoughts were on in-person learning, LaFavers said during the board meeting. LaFavers said about 95% of the district’s teachers participated in the survey.

“I want the teachers to know that we’ve taken this very seriously, and we appreciate you taking the time, and it meant a lot,” LaFavers said during the meeting.

According to data from the survey shared at the meeting, 27% of the teachers who participated in the survey felt comfortable with the idea of returning to school on Sept. 28, one of the dates considered for reopening. Of the teachers who participated, 21.2% reported that they wanted to start in-person after fall break, with 25.5% reporting they wanted to start in-person after the first semester. The remainder of the teachers who participated were either unsure or had other stipulations about being comfortable returning to school in person, including starting after there is a COVID-19 vaccine.

The board decided on Sept. 30 for hybrid reopening because it’s a Wednesday and school normally starts on a Wednesday, and to ensure that the road between the middle and high schools will be ready by the time of the reopening. Steve Karsner, chief academic officer for Boyle County Schools, said in an email that by Sept. 30, some students will still be utilizing the district’s self-paced option, and the rest of the students will come to school in person or continue virtual school each school day during the day. He said parents were surveyed in July to choose their children’s learning option for the fall semester.

Karsner said in an email that curriculum and daily lessons will be the same for students doing in-person and virtual learning, and teachers will work to be sure students are receiving the instruction they need. He said when in-person classes begin on Sept. 30, teachers will report to work every day unless they are ill or quarantined, whereas currently during virtual learning, teachers have the option to teach from home. In an email, Karsner also said when it comes to standardized testing, the district plans to take all the normal state assessments this year.

During the meeting, Laura Weddle, a Board of Education member, said the hybrid learning model starting Sept. 30 gives parents a chance to choose the best option for their families.

“I know it’s a hard decision, and I’ve struggled with it,” she said. “I’ve lost sleep over it. But I do feel like if we can continue that hybrid model of in-person for those who choose and then virtual for those who choose to stay home, then it does create an opportunity for everybody to get what they want.”

Jesse Johnson, vice-chairperson of the Board of Education, said in the meeting that he has heard from parents that some students are “hitting a wall, and they need to get back in school” — this is why the board felt it important to provide an in-person option.

A benefit to having an in-person option, the board’s chairperson Jennifer Newby said during the meeting, is to ensure students who choose the in-person option don’t feel alone.

“You can look across and see your buddy and know that they’re doing the same thing,” she said. “Right now when you’re at home and you’re sitting behind a computer screen … and you can’t see what everyone else is doing, you feel like you’re the only one that’s going through this.”

Preschool students in the district will have A/B days for in-person learning, as decided at the meeting. Chelsea Clark, elementary academic achievement and preschool director for the district, said in an email that the A/B model will allow for reduced class sizes and greater social distancing. The preschoolers will not be required to wear masks because due to their age, mask wearing would be difficult to enforce, Johnson said during the meeting.

Clark said the A/B model will allow preschoolers to attend school in person twice a week. The A group will attend on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the B group will attend Wednesdays and Thursdays, she said. Preschoolers can, however, choose to continue learning from home with teacher-created materials, access to virtual centers and instructional videos and receive weekly check-ins from their teachers, she said in the email.

The budget for Boyle County Schools was also approved for the 2020-2021 school year at the meeting, and David Morris, chief financial officer, said in an email that the budget includes the following materials and equipment for the district’s schools: masks for students and staff, face shields, Plexiglass dividers where appropriate, excess cleaning supplies, HEPA filters, touchless thermometers, specialized bus cleaning concentrate, bulk hand sanitizer, gloves, gowns for medical staff, wipeable nap mats for preschool, hot spots for students without internet access and devices for students to use for distance learning.

LaFavers said during the meeting that the number of substitute teachers the district began with, 50, will likely drop off as school progresses because it’s a difficult job due to the pandemic, and he also said subs are paid to be trained for the start of in-person school.

Newby said during the meeting that she wants parents to know this school year will look very different from usual with safety measures in place. LaFavers said during the meeting that the key to safety is six feet of social distancing, but the district cannot afford ongoing COVID-19 testing, and a baseline test would be expensive and would also delay in-person classes, and it would also become an irrelevant data set as the school year progressed. He also said the Boyle County Health Department will conduct contact tracing, as the school district will provide the health department information on seating charts, cafeteria seating charts, cafeteria line charts and bus seating charts, and then the health department will determine how many students and/or staff will need to quarantine if someone contracts COVID-19.