When the Bartow County School System begins the 2020-21 school year next month, 19% of its roughly 13,500 students will be learning from the comfort of their homes.
After last Sunday's deadline, the district had 2,458 students submit applications to do distance learning for at least the first nine weeks of the new school year.
"During that process, our schools have called each distance learning application student and parent to talk through that decision to make sure they understand the full ramification of the decision," Deputy Superintendent Dr. David Chiprany said.
Totals ranged from 141 students in kindergarten to 217 students in seventh grade. All middle and high school grade levels had 200 or more applicants except sixth grade (191) and ninth grade (192), and all elementary grade levels received less than 200 applications.
The remaining 81% of students will start the school year back in their brick-and-mortar classrooms.
Chiprany shared the application results with school board members at their meeting Monday night, along with details on how the distance learning plan, "which is really exciting to roll out," would be implemented.
Using the color-coded phases, determined by the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Department of Public Health, to identify a school's level of COVID-19 spread, the district will begin the year in green — no or low spread — as of now and will provide both in-person and distance learning opportunities, he said.
There will be an opt-out for distance learning students after Labor Day, and the system also will have an opt-in and opt-out phase for distance learning at the end of each nine-week grading period, Chiprany said.
"We're trying to be as flexible and fluid as possible as we go through this time," he said.
If the system has to transition to yellow — minimal or moderate spread — "we will stop Tier 1 instruction, which is the foundational instruction," and will go into Tier 2 — enrichment — instruction for three days, Chiprany said.
"This will allow our students the opportunity or parents the opportunity to opt into a distance learning model, and our traditional instruction will also continue at the same time," he said.
For red — substantial spread — the district will provide only distance learning instruction, "just like we did last spring for all of our students," he said.
Chiprany, who noted educators began working on the plan in early June, hoped to have the staff adjustments made and distance learning schedules finalized by the end of last week.
"Some teachers will teach distance learning while others will do face to face only or in-person," he said. "Some might do both. It just depends on how the schedule works."
He also said the teachers have been "very engaged in the process."
"We all feel very confident that we can accomplish supporting all of our students," he said.
A "huge part" of the program will be training an administrator and staff member at each school in how distance learning works, which resources are available and what processes will be taking place this semester, Chiprany said.
Tuesday, there will be a "very important meeting" for teachers and administrators that will focus on topics like online learning best practices (being flexible, understanding, accessible, consistent, simplistic), Teams and screencast (teachers recording themselves teaching), "netiquette" (procedures and norms of handling students' behavior on the internet), digital resources, student/parent distance learning orientation, video conferencing and flipped classrooms (students working on new material for homework first then using class time to discuss the new information).
And there also will be an important orientation for parents and students who chose distance learning.
"We want to make sure that they're ready to go, understand what resources they have, how to use the computer correctly, how to communicate with the teacher, just really good training so they're ready to go on the first day," Chiprany said.
The parent/student orientation will include expectations for distance learning regarding attendance, grading, schedules, digital resources and computer care; and the learning schedule, which will mirror an in-person schedule, he added.
Sample schedules for each school level can be viewed at https://4.files.edl.io/37a6/07/15/20/213318-2fa7a3fb-eac7-4ea0-9eec-73fc31450984.pdf.
The first day of school for Bartow County is Aug. 5, but distance learning officially starts Aug. 10, with students using the days between those two dates to get their computers, go through orientation and do other things to prepare for the school year.
Not all courses offered by the school district will be available to students who attend class virtually.
"We're going to offer everything we can in elementary and middle school," Chiprany said. "The high school, there are some courses we just can't offer like ceramics/pottery, things that are really hard to do online."
Other classes that won't be available include welding, automotive, certified nursing assistant, journalism, agriculture, forensics, construction, weight training, culinary arts, cosmetology and dance.
Overall, Chiprany is happy with the way the distance learning plan has come together.
"Bottom line is we are very excited, and I'm very proud of the principals and teachers we've connected along the way," he said. "It was really a global effort from all our schools so we're really proud of them."