What will the next school year look like?

That was the topic of discussion at a called May 21 meeting of the Jackson County Board of Education.

As the current school year winds down amid the COVID virus pandemic and at-home learning, school leaders are struggling to figure out how to plan for the next year.

In a report to the Jackson County BOE, superintendent April Howard said system leaders were looking at when and how to reopen school for the 2020-2021 year and what the year might look like.

"Whether it's the beginning, middle or end, we're likely to need some remote learning time; we're prepared for that," she said.

Howard said that given the likelihood the virus might hit hard again in the winter, the core of an in-person school year could be the September-November time-frame. The system is considering having more breaks in December-January for what could be a resurgence of the virus.

IN-PERSON?

But a larger question could be whether or not any school system can reopen at all with in-person learning amid state and federal guidelines.

Howard said that according to new CDC guidelines, desks would have to be six feet apart in the classrooms, meaning that only around eight students could be in the room at one time. That wouldn't work very well in classrooms of 25 or more students.

Another issue would be bus transportation since CDC guidelines recommend limiting the number of students on a bus, a move that would triple the number of bus routes needed to get students to and from school facilities, Howard said.

System leaders tentatively plan to put out a recommended calendar by the first of June for the board to consider at its June meeting. Meanwhile, the system is awaiting further guidance from both state and federal officials about how to proceed. 

If county schools do reopen in the fall, they would likely limit public access into the facilities, including parents, due to the potential of spreading the virus. For now, the leasing of school facilities to outside groups is on hold pending further review.

Howard praised the system's "strong remote learning platform" and said that while having students taught at home isn't ideal, some learning is better than none.

"If we can't start (classes) with the way our regular calendar is (in-person schooling), then we will start remotely," she said.

Howard noted that some area school systems may not start back with in-person classes until after Labor Day.

In a related discussion, Howard said that athletics was another concern for the fall. She said the state GHSA would likely issue guidelines that would allow for small-group conditioning for football players in June, but that the association, which oversees high school sports, had not made any determinations beyond that.

Board member Don Clerici said that if schools weren't safe to reopen in the fall, he didn't see how athletics could proceed safely, either.

ACTION ON EMPOWER CENTER

In addition to the school year discussion, the board approved a guaranteed maximum price of $5.3 million to Carroll Daniel Construction for the renovation of the current Jackson County Comprehensive High School for the system's Empower Center, which is slated to open in 2021.

Phase one of the project would be a renovation of the high school's D-wing for various labs and technical classes.

The total cost of the project is set at $6 million.

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