WEST ALEXANDRIA — Twin Valley South School District board members and administrators prepared for the first day of the 2020-21 school year, and debated controversial remote learning options, during their regular monthly meeting Monday, Aug. 24.
“We think we’re ready for tomorrow,” Director of Transportation and Facilities Jeff Tully told the assembled board members. Among other COVID-19 safety measures, according to Tully, every classroom in the building has been equipped with a gallon of hand sanitizer.
Dispensers have also been installed on buses so that students can sanitize as they board, and stickers have been placed on floors throughout the school building to help students social distance. Hand sanitizer has been in short supply over the last several months, according to Tully, with orders placed back in March just beginning to be filled.
K-6 principal Patti Holly, meanwhile, said that efforts are underway to allow students to safely participate in recess without coming in contact with playground equipment and other high-touch surfaces.
“It may not be the same recess on the jungle gym,” Holly said. “But we’ll be putting them in groups so they can play. They’ll be playing games they probably haven’t played in years.”
Remote Learning Option
About 66 K-5 students, 12 sixth graders, and 37 junior high and high school students had opted for the school’s online option, known as Panther Academy, by the start of school Tuesday, according to 7-12 principal Derek Flatter.
“That number is not exact at this moment,” Flatter said. “We continue to receive communication.”
Remote learning will be administered through an online platform called Edmentum, according to Superintendent Scott Cottingim, with students attending in-person classes doing so according to a “hybrid plan.” Students with last names beginning with A-K will attend on Tuesday and Wednesday, Cottingim said, while those starting with L-Z will be in class on Thursday and Friday.
Cottingim praised his faculty and staff for helping bring this hybrid plan together.
“This is outside of a lot of folks’ comfort zone, but they’ve embraced it,” Cottingim said. “I think we’re going to be in a really good place when we start.”
Cottingim said the choice to use Edmentum, rather than assigning TVS faculty to work with remote learning students, was made so that students attending class in person would not be neglected while teachers are trained in “blended learning.”
“We decided to let our teachers do what they do best, which is teaching here,” Cottingim said.
Board member Jason DeLong had concerns about the remote learning model, however, asking why TVS teachers couldn’t work with those students.
“Are we not set up for that?” DeLong asked. “I thought we were going to do it ourselves.”
Cottingim and board member Christine Bitner indicated there hadn’t been enough time to come up with a plan for TVS faculty to teach both in-person and remote students.
“We’ve never been in this boat before, and the boat’s full of holes,” Cottingim said. “We’re trying to come up with ways that we’re not sitting here next year with the same heartburn.”
“I think we owe it to the people in this community not to have just thrown something together,” Bitner said. “We’re not just going to pick a couple people and say, ‘Okay, now you’re an online teacher.’”
Board member Matt Lunsford challenged this reasoning, however, asking how the district could possibly be ready to teach the entire student body remotely in the event of another state-ordered shutdown.
“If we’re supposed to be able to do 600 if we have to, surely we can handle 103,” Lunsford said.
Cottingim also stressed that the district would lose $355,000 in funding if the remote learning students chose to withdraw. The contract with Edmentum will cost $225,000, meaning that even factoring in that expenditure the district will come out ahead.
Council ultimately voted 4 to 1 to approve the remote learning plan, with Lunsford voting no.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook or Instagram @mproperenglish