As Lee County Public Schools reopened in September, a year of uncertainty lies ahead. Roughly a quarter of the student population began classes online, presenting new obstacles to the public-school system. Lee County Public Schools put in place measures to alleviate some of the complications that might arise from the demands of school life in a COVID-19 era.
Students and their families were given the choice of in-person or remote learning. According to Assistant Superintendent Jason Wright, roughly 25% of Lee County’s 10,000 students elected to begin classes online while the majority began classes in-person.
Measures to maintain in-person school’s effectiveness while balancing safety are straightforward, as masks, social distancing and proactive surface cleaning will remain enforced. Online instruction, however, presents the school system with new challenges for all, particularly students of families in lower income brackets where access and supervision might be lacking.
Lee County Public Schools has provided all students with laptops, but for many, Wi-Fi is not available at home.
“To address the Wi-Fi issue, we have three things that we’re working to do: One, we have disseminated our school buses that are equipped with Wi-Fi to 20 different strategic locations throughout the county that families can go to and access,” Wright said. “We have also made the Wi-Fi in our school buildings accessible from outside in the school parking lots.”
Wright also stated that funds from the recent Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, and particularly Gov. Kay Ivey’s Alabama Broadband Connectivity for Students, has allowed LCPS to purchase Wi-Fi hardware to distribute to students’ families. According to a July press release from the Office of the Governor, beneficiaries of this plan must currently be eligible for free or reduced-price school meals or meet other income criteria. This coverage is approved through Dec. 31, 2020.
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For working parents, lack of Wi-Fi might be solvable by LCPS’s initiative, but parental supervision for younger, more dependent children proves another. Right now, families have the choice of sending their children to school or keeping them at home, but if schools are forced to close their doors again, a parent might have no other choice than to quit or put their job on hold.
If schools were forced to close, the range of students that could be accommodated for services would be barebones.
“We would open the buildings when we could for individual cases; special education, ESL, those things are required services. But as far as if things are closed, they’re closed,” Wright said. “And that would become a family decision of how they would address [online classes].”
Another possible issue that might arise in online instruction is confusion, whether that be from course material or the facilitation software itself. According to Wright, LCPS has designated staff to supervise, monitor and facilitate online courses.
“There’s an English teacher available to support English students; there’s a math teacher available to help with math, and so on and so forth,” Wright said.
Seventh and eighth graders have help available to them from teachers of various schools across the county, while high schoolers can get help from teachers located in their respective buildings.
Students have access to one-on-one instruction through designated periods, or through scheduled office hours.
If another stay-at-home order is issued, students, especially young primary-level students in particular, might lose out on important opportunities to develop social skills, Wright said.
“That’s kind of the downside, why we need everybody to take the measures that they can to mitigate the spread so we don’t have to do that,” Wright said. “Back in March, that was terrible.”
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