SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — With the new school year just weeks away, many districts across Georgia and South Carolina are planning to have both virtual and classroom learning options for students due to the increase in coronavirus cases.

Superintendents across the states say they’re eager to get back to in-person instruction, but many educators agree remote learning would better protect students and staff.

Virtual learning requires each student to have access to devices like laptops or tablets and internet service from Wi-Fi or mobile hot spots, which can pose issues for rural county schools.

Many parents and teachers are concerned only families who have access to computers at home will be able to choose to have their child learn remotely.

Superintendent of Hampton School District One, Ronald Wilcox, says every student who would like to learn remotely for this school year will be provided the necessary resources to do so.

“We hope to have devices for all children who want them. I think the choice that parents make is entirely up to them for what they think is best for their child and what their child will benefit the most from,” Wilcox said.

“We’re getting some CARES Act funds that will be helping us and then we have received some funds from the state in regard to combining our school district with Hampton School District Two, which will allow us to purchase computers which we really need,” he added.

Many school districts, including Screven County schools, have received funding to help purchase necessary tech for students.

Superintendent for Screven County School System Dr. Jim Thompson says they will also be using Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds, the federal stimulus aimed at COVID-19 relief, to purchase devices that students can take home and use for school work.

“We’ve also received devices that can be put on a bus that provides a hot spot for an area so students can work more effectively from home,” Thompson said.

Many rural counties in Georgia are utilizing the CARES Act to cover costs of devices, connectivity assistive technology, outfitting buildings/buses with WiFi, and online learning platforms.

In May, Georgia public school districts received $411,452,867 in COVID-19 relief funds.

Districts can use these funds at their discretion for a variety of efforts including distance/remote learning, school meals, supporting at-risk student populations, mental and physical health, supplemental learning, facilities/equipment, and maintaining continuity of core staff and services.

The Georgia Department of Education recently launched Georgia’s Home Classroom, where students in pre-K through 12th grade can access free, educational PBS programming designated for each grade level.

There are also other resources on their website, focused on creating an equitable learn-from-home environment for all students.

Thompson also mentioned that Screven County schools may receive a grant from the state that would help purchase technology students could use to learn from home.

Savannah-Chatham County Public School System, one of the largest school districts in Georgia, is tackling the virtual learning option in a similar way.

Superintendent Dr. Ann Levett says they are continuously working on their plan to find options for students who may not have substantial internet service.

SCCPSS students will be able to access independent learning packets, which are paper-based, and can be submitted for grading through picture, email, or hard copy.

WSAV On Your Side reporter Ricardo Lewis reports, “In other cases, students will be provided assignments on a flash drive to be completed on a Chromebook without the need for internet service.”

But some virtual learning options come with limitations. Friday is Appling County School’s deadline to register for distanced learning, and students who decided to participate in distanced learning may not be able to opt-in to extracurricular activities.

But Superintendent Dr. Scarlett Miles Copeland says it’s up to each school’s principal to make that decision.

“In our district, we’re hoping to provide educational programs that meet the needs of the students and the parents regardless of which program they sign up for,” Wilcox said.

“We’re offering the in-school option through a hybrid model and we’re offering the virtual. We’ll have computers available for all our students and we feel like we can provide a good quality education program regardless of which choice they make.”

Virtual learning will be outsourced to a company called Edgenuity in Bacon County. The company is a provider of K–12 online curriculum and each student enrolled will be assigned courses and an Edgenuity instructor. They will also have access to on-demand live tutors.

But once the first day of school begins, students who have enrolled in virtual learning will not be
able to enroll in traditional instruction until January 2021.

For Bacon County schools, parents are expected to provide technology and internet access for students. Administrators say cell phones do not constitute a device for educational purposes.

Again, students learning remotely will be ineligible for extra-curricular activities, including athletics, fine arts programs, school dances, clubs, and field trips.

The deadline to register for the virtual learning option for Coffee County schools has passed, but students who signed up will follow the same calendar and pacing schedule as the face-to-face instruction occurring in the school building.

Courses will be accessed through Google Classroom with their personal computers, and teachers will provide a daily and weekly schedule of lessons.

Administrators say students’ progress will be monitored frequently by teachers but may be assigned a virtual teacher that may not be in their zoned or assigned school.

“We just are facing some challenging times right now in education,” Wilcox said.

“And I’ve told my staff, ‘we’re going to have to be very flexible this year and we don’t know what issues may be out there in front of us but we just have to take them one-by-one and try to do the best we can to work with our parents to make sure our children are properly educated.’”

Find all the information you need to know about going back to school in your district here.