LOXLEY – Baldwin County public school classrooms will open on schedule in August, but parents concerned about COVID-19 will have the option to have their children continue to learn from home, Superintendent of Education Eddie Tyler said.
Educators plan to expand the current virtual school system for upper level grades to include kindergarten and elementary classes. This will allow parents concerned the spread of COVID-19 to have their children study using computer links and videos, Hope Zeanah, assistant superintendent of elementary education, said.
Classes closed statewide in March and schools switched to distance learning.
Tyler said parents are asking if schools will reopen for the start of the new academic year. He told members of the Baldwin County Board of Education on June 9 that unless they decided to change the calendar, classes will resume on schedule.
“I would like to stay with that firm calendar,” Tyler told board members. “I think everybody, if they can, wants to get started as soon as possible. So, unless you think about this and you want me to reconsider. we're just staying on track.”
Tyler said teachers will report for work on Aug. 3 and students will come back on Aug. 12. He said system officials are working on ways to keep schools safe during the pandemic, including the use of thermal cameras that can check body temperatures as students enter school.
Educators are working this summer to prepare a virtual school program for students who choose not to return to the classroom.
“The purpose of this was if you had students who elect to not return to regular school because of underlying conditions or someone in the family’s health is compromised, they will provide that same curriculum that you would be getting in the classroom,” Zeanah said.
The K-6 virtual school program will be set up in portable classrooms moved from Orange Beach to the county Virtual High School campus in Daphne. The program will start with a lead teacher, three general teachers and a secretary. Zeanah said the program could be expanded if more students than expected sign up for the classes.
During the summer, teachers across the county are preparing videos to be used in the new program, Zeanah said.
The Alabama Department of Education is also preparing a statewide distance learning program, but Baldwin County chose to develop its own curriculum, Tyler said.
“You’ve got systems that are so rural, they’re not going to be able to do what Jefferson County is doing or Madison City is doing or Baldwin County is doing,” Tyler said. “It’s just not possible so that’s where that flexibility comes in.”
Tyler said Baldwin County’s distance learning program developed during the spring received higher ratings than systems developed by vendors for other areas of the state.
He said school system officials will continue developing the program during the summer and will release additional information before classes resume.