School reopening questions? SCCPSS superintendent, staff give answers

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) Superintendent Dr. Ann Levett and district staff met Tuesday for a question and answer session on school reopening plans.

On Thursday, the Board of Education approved a calendar modification for the 2020-21 school year, which delays the start of the school year to Wednesday, Aug. 19, and begins with virtual learning through Labor Day.

Teachers are set to return on Monday, Aug. 3, to engage in professional learning on new software and more.

What happens after Labor Day?

Levett said she wanted to make it clear that SCCPSS never established the day after Labor Day would be the start in-person learning.

“Data determines the date so we are working with our department of public health partners to see when it will be safe for us to return to face-to-face instruction and even then, we will have a lot of planning to do for a community of 44,000 — that’s 37,000 plus children and 5,600 employees,” she said. “So it will take a lot.”

The superintendent said teachers and staff are constantly working on preparing for that day and will be ready when it’s safe to return in person.

“I can guarantee you that the staff of SCCPSS is getting ready at every moment to welcome our babies back into the building,” Levett continued. “That is what we want, but we will not do it at the cost of safety.”

What will a student’s day look like?

The superintendent said SCCPSS’ virtual learning will not look like a typical school day or typical online courses. Levett said that for a student to be online from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. is not developmentally appropriate.

“We will expect that our staff will interact on a regular basis with our students and we will have established schedules as well we will recognize and honor their points of development,” she said.

In the first week of school, there may be a time when teachers guide children through new learning platforms.

A typical day will vary for each student but the following components will be utilized:

  • Mini-lessons, debates, small group support
  • Office hours, follow-up sessions, individual tutorial with teachers
  • Learning playbook providing guidelines for various ages
  • 10-20 minutes of direct instruction
  • “Brain breaks”
  • Playtime for younger students
  • Socializing time for older students

Executive Director K-12 School Transformation Dr. Vallerie Cave said learning guidelines are being established for different grade groups.

“Our children are going to be able to engage in instructional strategies through an instructional delivery based on several approaches,” Cave said.

Screen time will also vary by age. A pre-K student may be at the computer for 40 minutes to an hour each day but learning independently for four hours. A high school student could be online for an hour or longer but spend five hours off-screen.

Cave also said there will be extensive plans for younger students and students with special needs or disabilities.

“We’re going to make sure that our pre-k babies have developmentally appropriate learning experiences as well as hands-on learning because they’re going to receive a learning box every month especially designed for them,” she said.

SCCPSS Associate Superintendent of Learning Support Services Dr. Kim Hancock said various hotlines will be set up for parents or guardians of students with special needs.

Hancock said, for example, a behavior hotline will be available where a certified behavior therapist can offer guidance. Another hotline will be established for Individualized Education Program help.

How will attendance be taken?

Attendance is defined by “student participation.”

Students will be considered in attendance when they are participating in active instruction. This includes time spent on the online platform, participating in online instruction, submitting assignments or interacting with teachers.

School officials can also look at data provided through the online learning systems to establish attendance.

How will school nutrition work?

Parents and guardians will have through Sept. 30 to complete the application process for free and reduced meals, just as if SCCPSS was returning for a normal school year.

Levett said about 28,000 students were eligible for those meals.

While the goal is to deliver meals one day a week, so as to not interrupt the instructional process, deliveries likely will not start out that way.

SCCPSS will have a list of students registered for the program based on ID cards. But if an application hasn’t been fully processed, the superintendent said an alternative meal will be available on any particular day so no child goes without food.

The application is available online now. Applications can be filled out in person but an appointment needs to be made first by calling 912-395-1066.

What about bus drivers?

SCCPSS said 296 bus drivers have already committed to return for the upcoming school year. Drivers are undergoing physicals and going through transportation requirements.

Although they will not be transporting students to and form school in August, drivers will be helping with meal deliveries.

Drivers will be provided masks and will be required to wear shields when they are not driving.

Buses will also be disinfected after deliveries.

What technology is available for students?

SCCPSS Chief Data and Accountability Officer David Feliciano said the district has 3,000 Chromebooks on hand and an additional 14,400 are expected to be delivered around mid-August.

Staff members are also collecting devices from 5th and 8th grade students who are going to their new schools. The devices will be sanitized and reissued to incoming students.

Feliciano said 400 Chromebooks were purchased through community donations. He took time to thank those who had contributed.

Distribution will look similar to the process that happened after spring break. Parents will be given a time and place to pick up devices curbside.

A new smart phone app will be available to teachers, parents and students, making it easy to see courses, quizzes, exams, emails, due dates and more.

Feliciano said there are 60 hot spot devices going to high schools. In addition, 250 hot spot devices were ordered through a grant that will be given to seven schools: Humanities at Juliette Gordon Low and Shuman elementary schools, Hubert, Mercer, Myers and DeRenne middle schools and Liberal Studies at Savannah High School.

The devices will be available through the school media centers and can be checked out as needed.

Ten smart buses will also be made available to students. SCCPSS is still working on finding locations to park them that will not be too hot or too secluded. A schedule has yet to be established but will be posted on the district’s website.

Officials said links have been sent to 3,600 applicants of the Savannah-Chatham e-Learning Academy, a new stand-alone, online school.

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