Students return to school August 7th : What to expect

Board of Education, News, Rebel's Corner
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Blue Ridge, Ga. – Students of the Fannin County School System (FCSS) will have the option of returning to school in a modified traditional setting or utilizing online learning for the 2020-21 school year.

School Administration released their plans for reopening schools at the Board of Education (BOE) regular July meeting.

Assistant Superintendent Sarah Rigdon gave the board an overview of what to expect when school comes back into session. 

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Rigdon presented the BOE with administration’s plan to reopen schools.

The Georgia Department of Education (DOE) released guidelines in early June for schools to consider when reopening in the State of Georgia. These guidelines, however, were only recommendations and the ultimate decisions for school operations were left up to the districts.

The DOE guidelines, along with guidance from both local and state authorities, as well as guardian and faculty input helped shape the approach that the FCSS is choosing to implement for the time being.

“The important part for us was to get the information and make the best decisions that we can,” Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney spoke of the system’s plan. “This plan is subject to change. We need to think of this as a living document. It will be modified as new things are learned.”

 

***Important Dates***

Traditional school, or in person education will begin on August 7, 2020.

Faculty and Staff are to report on August 3, 2020.

Online Learning will also begin on August 7, 2020.

Parents and Guardians may enroll their child for Online Learning between July 10 – July 20, 2020.

 

***Online Learning***

For those not comfortable with the traditional in class setting, an online option will be available. Assistant Superintendent Rigdon stressed that this online option will not mirror the distance learning that the school put in place upon the mandatory closure earlier this year.

The online learning platform will be run through a 3rd party that is yet to be determined. The platform will provide instruction to the child with the parent or guardian being a “learning coach”.

Students enrolled in online learning will spend the majority of the traditional school day (8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.) either working online or working to complete assignments given online. Attendance will be taken and monitored via login and assignments completed.

There will be FCSS personnel assigned to check on each child’s progress. The “learning coaches” will be given the name of someone at the school who can help them navigate the program or assist with issues.

The content of the online learning platform, according to FCSS, will be “rigorous and graded”.

Students enrolled in Online Learning will be able to participate in sports and extracurricular activities. 

While the FCSS is not requiring that students sign a contract to remain in the online platform once enrolled (many other districts have this requirement), they would like to see those enrolled stay with the program through the first semester or for the entirety of the school year.

“We are not asking parents to sign a commitment, but we do want them to be extremely thoughtful as they make that decision because it is going to require us to allocate and spend funds that could be better spent if they’re not going to stick with the program,” Rigdon explained of the need for students and guardians to consider the decision heavily.

Rigdon did add for those who enroll but discover that the online platform is not working for them, “We are never turning a child away from our schools.”

Students utilizing the Online Learning platform will complete assignments from a school issued device. FCSS will provide a WiFi hotspot for students without internet, but these hotspots work much like mobile phones, so if you are an area with poor cell phone service it is likely that the hotspot would not work for you.

Online Learning is available for children in grades Kindergarten – 12. This includes children with IEPs (Individualized Educational Program). Online Learning is not available for Pre-K students.

 

***Traditional School***

Masks are optional for both students and personnel. Parents or Guardians must provide a mask for students who wish to wear one throughout the day.

Temperatures will be taken for all students, staff, parents and guardians each morning upon arriving at the campus. Anyone with a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will not be permitted to stay at school. 

Hand sanitizer will be available to all children and adults before entering the school buildings.

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Parents, Guardians, and Staff completed a survey on key issues. This helped shape the district’s plan to reopen.

Elementary teachers will move the students instead of students changing classes. Middle and High School students will not be allowed to congregate in hallways. When and where possible class changes for Middle and High School students will be staggered or hallway traffic patterns will be addressed to prevent overcrowding.

When possible students will be assigned seats and will keep the same seat during the instructional class period.

Each school will “develop school level procedures” to limit the number of students in the cafeteria. This may include “grab and go” where students will pick up meals and eat in a classroom or designated area.

The final plan for buses has not been finalized. However, hand sanitizer will be available for anyone upon boarding a bus. Buses will be sanitized daily and ventilated to the extent feasible when in route.

Parents and guardians will be notified of any adjustments to bus routes or pick up times before the first day of school. Requirement to wear a mask while on a bus has not been decided, but parents and guardians will be notified of this decision as well.

Parents and guardians will be allowed to walk their child to class during the first few days of school but must wear a mask.  Schools will determine when parents and guardians will no longer have access beyond the main entrance.  

FCSS states “We want to keep the lines of communication strong, but we need to limit the number of people flowing into and out of the buildings each day.”

 

***If Schools Close Again***

Those students enrolled in Online Learning would continue the course that they are taking with no change. Students of the traditional classroom setting would switch to online learning but follow a model similar to that that was implemented in March 2020.

 

The FCSS states of the opening plan that “plans may change based on future orders from the Governor, the Department of Community Health, or the Department of Education”.

“Our desire is always to operate a traditional school with face to face,” Rigdon said of the hope for all students eventually to return to a traditional setting, “We believe our instruction is best at that level.”

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

BOE looks to reopen schools in August

Board of Education, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County School System (FCSS) is moving forward with plans to reopen the district in August.

“Our goal remains to have school in August,” FCSS Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney spoke at the recent Board of Education meeting, adding, “Now, it’s impossible to say right now exactly how school will look in August, as so much will depend on the health of our community at that time.”

Gwatney, along with district personnel and the Board of Education, are looking to find a balance for the upcoming year, weighing both the needs of the students and the needs of the community.

The Georgia Department of Education released guidelines on Monday, June 1, 2020 for districts moving forward. This advisement breaks up reopening recommendations into three categories:

  • Low/No Spread (of Covid-19)
  • Minimal/Moderate Spread
  • Substantial Spread

Each category has specific guidelines and recommendations for operating a school system based on the health of the community, and can range from traditional operation (in person) to hybrid operation (alternating schedules) to distance/remote learning.

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The beginning guidelines from the GaDOE defining the categories to consider when reopening schools.

You can read the guidelines released by the Georgia Department of Education by clicking here : Georgia’s K-12 Restart and Recovery

“The great thing that I love about the plan is that it is actually giving communities back control of how their schools function,” FCSS Assistant Superintendent Sarah Rigdon said of the new recommendations.

While the district is preparing and hopeful to have children back in the classroom this fall, they are also preparing for a worst case scenario, where distance/remote learning is the only option once again.

FCSS Director of Instructional Technology, Heather Finley, gave the public a brief overview of how the statewide closure was handled in March of this year. 

During the past nine weeks, 68,000 meals were still served to students, over 700 Google Classrooms were created, approximately 900 virtual meetings and classrooms were attended, WiFi Hotspots were provided to families throughout the county, and those with special needs were still provided services.

“If we can do this in 3 days,” Finely said of the district’s quick response to the pandemic crisis in March, “we can plan for August and figure it out.”

The school system is sending out a survey to parents, guardians, facility, and staff regarding their feelings on moving forward with the 2020-2021 school year. This survey will be based on the low to moderate guidelines recommended by the State.

“This has been a very polarizing issue, and so it should be interesting once we get some of this data back to how the community feels,” Rigdon said of the survey.

The hope of conducting the survey is to get genuine feedback from those with an invested interest in the operations of the school district on a variety of topics that will need to be addressed before moving forward.

An example of such a topic was given as to whether or not children should be required to wear masks in school. 

The school system has also been seeking guidance from a wide variety of professionals in the medical, legal, economic and emergency management fields. 

Rigdon will share the findings from the survey at the July Board of Education meeting so that plans can be made for the reopening of Fannin County schools in August.

“We are excited that we are going to be able to go back to local control. It’s our kids and our community,” Rigdon stated and added, “Educators have missed their kids.”

Board member Lewis Deweese shared his feelings on how every obstacle has been met so far by the Fannin County School System: “The demonstration of love and the compassion that our teachers have for students, it goes above and beyond the call of duty by far.”

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Fannin Schools prepare for State Budget cuts

Community, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County School System (FCSS) is prepared to “weather the storm” as expectations of State Budget cuts loom over next year’s financials.

“We get a great deal of insight into how we can budget from the legislature and so we’re waiting on that information,” FCSS Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney addressed the district’s finances at the May Board of Education meeting. “One thing that we do know though from the Governor’s Office is there is going to be an across the board 14 percent. How that translates is yet to be seen.” 

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s office has been in contact with several state departments to let them know that budget cuts will be inevitable and there is expected to be a 14 percent cut to all state agencies This cut includes Georgia’s public schools.

The Georgia State Legislature, who sets these budgets, is still in session and have yet to announce a finalization due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Legislators are expected to resume meetings in June of this year.

The lag in legislation makes it difficult for schools to move forward with fiscal year 2021 budgeting, but FCSS is on schedule and planning for what may come.

“That amount is significant for the Fannin County School District,” Gwatney said of the proposed cut to state funds, but added that through conservative decisions in the past, FCSS has a reserve and is in a fortunate situation of being better prepared to “weather this financial storm” than many other districts.

Gwatney also pointed out that Fannin County is a debt free school system which will aid in financial stability for Fiscal Year 2021. 

Board member Lewis Deweese questioned what the budget cuts would affect and specifically questioned its effects on personnel.

“The guidance we have been given is to expect a 14 percent decrease,” FCSS Director of Finance Susan Wynn answered, “It will decrease our revenues in our total operating budget, but we have a very sound reserve so it’s not expected to affect any personnel.” 

Dr. Gwatney added, “I believe there will be an economic recovery. I think it will take time, but our reserve will allow us to get to that point. It’s my intention to protect all people involved with the Fannin County School System. That would include, of course, the students with that reserve, and our personnel with that reserve, and also the community, the taxpayers, with that reserve.”

Fannin County’s monthly financial update given at the meeting showed that the school system is still operating and maintaining a healthy financial status.

Wynn, who was recently awarded for distinction and excellent financial reporting by the Georgia Department of Audits, gave an update with 75 percent of fiscal year 2020 complete.

This update showed that revenues were up and expenditures were down for the district from last year. 

Expenses showed $26,015,727.37 so far for the year. This number represents 70.31 percent of expenditures budgeted. At this time last year, expenditures were at 72 percent.

While SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) did not meet expectations for the month, it was still the highest amount collected for a March, bringing in $445,424.87. This collection showed a 0.033 percent growth over March of 2019 despite the state shutting down for a portion of this time.

Numbers for April and May are being eagerly anticipated as a statewide Shelter In Place was issued and recently lifted. 

“It will be a good indicator of the economy,” Gwatney said of awaiting the SPLOST collection numbers for April and May.

The FCSS will move forward with the budgeting process for Fiscal Year 2021 with tentative dates set in August to adopt a budget and set a millage rate.

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

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