Lawrence County Schools Superintendent Jon Bret Smith on Thursday said it appears about 75% of the county’s 4,500 students plan to attend traditional classes when the school year begins Aug. 12, and a board member worried about the ability of the system to keep children safe from COVID-19.
After a school board meeting Thursday where the board hired two virtual/blended teachers, Smith said the board has a solid plan in place including cloth masks for each student and employee to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.
He said it appears about 15% of the parents have opted for their children to receive exclusively virtual lessons and another 10% plan for their children to take a blended option with both traditional and virtual instruction.
Board member Christine Garner said the parents are in a tough position this fall and she's not sure traditional schooling is the best avenue to take.
“The schools will be ready, but we don’t know enough about the virus,” Garner said. “I think if I still had children in school, I would lean toward virtual. I understand parents have jobs and can’t be home with their children. They have to do what’s best for their family, whether it be hire a baby-sitter or have their kids visit their grandparents during the day and let them home-school them with virtual classes.
"I’d hate to be a parent of a student right now."
She said uncertainties complicate the decisions that parents and school officials must make.
“There’s so many unknowns about this virus,” Garner said. “We want the kids to stay safe and get the education they need. If they can’t stay safe, what good will an education do for them? It’ll be like sending them to a death trap.”
She said over the years parents have counted on the school system to educate their children.
“Now we’re in a different climate,” Garner said. "It’s not an easily made decision. Whatever the parents need, we should try to help get them.”
The board approved the hiring of virtual/blended elementary teacher Jamie Layman and virtual/blended secondary teacher Jonathan Barron at Thursday’s meeting. Barron has worked as an assistant principal in the Decatur City and Lawrence County school systems.
Smith said the system will need to hire about four teachers to handle the virtual/blended option this year. He also said some existing teachers have agreed to transition to virtual/blended.
He said the state is expected to supply each student and school employee with three reusable cloth masks. “We’re going to be purchasing at least one mask for everyone in case the state’s masks don’t arrive on time,” Smith said.
The board agreed to meet July 27 at 8 a.m. to finalize plans for the school year.
In other business, the board approved the following certified personnel transactions:
• Accepted the resignation of Kelley Childress, Moulton Elementary teacher, effective July 9.
• Hired Rachel Threet, East Lawrence Elementary teacher; Kinsey Berryman, Hatton Elementary teacher; and Callie Henderson, R.A. Hubbard music teacher/band director.
• Transferred Taffy Pierce, assistant principal at Hatton High to reading coach at Mount Hope School; and Stephen Culver, East Lawrence High School from social science teacher to assistant principal.