By Crystal Burns
In a lengthy special called meeting that included exhaustive discussion, public input, questions, and suggestions, the Gibson County Special School District (GCSSD) Board of Trustees unanimously approved a distance learning academy option for families uncomfortable sending their children back to school Aug. 3.
The plan, which the board dubbed Option 1A, will give stipends to teachers whose classes include children enrolled in distance learning. Classroom assignments will be made as usual, with all students being assigned to specific teachers. A teacher could end up with a classroom only comprised of in-person learners or a mixture of in-person and online students.
Teachers with online students will receive a stipend to be determined at the August school board meeting.
Director of Schools Eddie Pruett presented four options to the board. In Option 1, the district would have reached out to teachers to volunteer for distance learning duties in addition to their in-person instruction and paid those teachers a stipend based on the number of students they taught virtually.
Pruett said Option 1 would require about 51 total stipends and would be the most expensive. He said district leaders’ concerns with the option were finding teachers willing to take on the extra load and the work that would be involved in planning and instructing students online and in the classroom.
Options 2 and 3 involved combining students at Spring Hill and Yorkville in different ways. In one scenario, teachers at those schools would spend half the day teaching in person and half the day teaching online. In another scenario, one teacher per grade level would choose to teach online while the other taught in person.
Option 4 was fully online, with students using a computer program the district would purchase. Students would still have a teacher of record, but the burden of accountability would be shifted from the teacher to the student and parents/guardians. The option was the least expensive for the district.
Pruett said that as of Thursday, the district had received 104 applications from students wishing to enroll in the distance learning academy. Deadline for applying is Friday, July 24, and he expected the number to rise after the board made its decision at the special called meeting. No medical documentation is required to enroll in distance learning.
When Chairman Tom Lannom opened the floor for public input, it was abundantly clear that Options 2 and 3 were not popular among the families present, largely representing the Spring Hill and Yorkville communities.
Parents said asking children to change environments could cause anxiety, having smaller class sizes at the schools should be an advantage since social distancing is encouraged to slow the spread of COVID-19, and Yorkville and Spring Hill teachers shouldn’t be forced to teach distance learning students from across the district.
Pruett stressed that the options he outlined are only in play when the district is at Level 3 and likely Level 4. In Level 1, no students would be allowed in the buildings. At Level 2, the district would operate an alternating A/B schedule. At Level 4, most of the COVID-19 restrictions currently in place would expire, but Pruett said he anticipates that some students would choose to do distance learning for the entire school year. He said he wouldn’t want to tell a family they had to bring their child back to school if/when the district is at Level 4.
Detailed information about each level is online at www.gcssd.org.
Mulling over the options
As the board mulled over its choices, members quickly eliminated Options 2 and 3, with many families exiting the meeting after the vote.
Both Pruett and board member Dana Welch said feedback they had received from teachers favored Option 4. Dr. Michelle Goad, one of the district’s supervisors of instruction, said that the majority of teachers who spoke to her don’t like Option 4 because it’s a “canned” program.
Lannom made the motion to approve Option 1A, keeping students with their original teachers of record and determining a stipend for the teachers at a later date, and Boals made the second. Welch asked if there would be flexibility for teachers who don’t want to teach distance learning because of challenges with technology or time.
“I think we have support from the district office to help with any technology needs, and other than that, if we decide here tonight that that student stays with that teacher, that’s the way it’s got to be,” board member Steven Tate said.
Teachers may record some lessons for distance learning students to watch, cutting down on duplicate teaching times, school leaders said.
School Resource Officers
Pruett updated the board on his request to the Gibson County Commission, which has asked the district to agree to a partnership to fund the four new School Resource Officers (SRO) it has requested from the Gibson County Sheriff’s Department.
The district has received a state grant to cover up to $35,000 of each officer’s salary. Pruett has already reached agreements with the City of Medina, Town of Rutherford, and Kenton Special School District to split the remaining $20,000 for one officer to be placed in Kenton, Rutherford, and South Gibson County Elementary School. He said he is waiting on confirmation from the City of Dyer.
Only schools that had not previously had an SRO are eligible for the grant.
Pruett said the commission fears the grant could go away, and it would have to foot the bill for the four SROs. Budget Committee Chairman Michael Longmire asked Pruett if the district would be willing to split those costs with the commission if the grant is eliminated.
Cost to the district would be $68,524 for the four officers should the grant be pulled.
The board unanimously approved the potential partnership.
Correction: In an article that was published in our July 14 edition, we incorrectly stated that Pruett said schools would open at Level 4 based on current numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in the area. Pruett said under current circumstances, schools would open at Level 3. We regret the error.