Tia Lynn Ivey
At least 16 percent of Morgan County students will learn completely virtually when school reopens this August. Morgan County, like other school districts across the state, are experimenting with how best to reopen schools in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The Morgan County Board of Education landed on a hybrid plan, offering both virtual and in-person learning for the upcoming school year. While students are given the option, teachers and staff cannot opt out of in-person instruction, according to school officials.
In recent weeks, other school systems have opted to delay reopening to September, like Athens-Clarke County, or only offer online learning, such as Rockdale, Fulton, and Cobb counties. Morgan County is pressing ahead to reopen on Aug. 6.
“Our plan has not changed,” said Dr. Virgil Cole, superintendent of Morgan County Schools.
To date, 550 students across all four of Morgan County’s public schools have opted for the virtual-only learning program. But the vast majority of students, more than 2,600 students, will return in-person to Morgan County schools. According to Cole, students and teachers will have to adjust to new procedures and protocols to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“While I do not know of anyone who has all of the answers, we believe our plan or framework is safe, thoughtful, and appropriate for our system, staff and students,” said Dr. Cole. “I take this responsibility very seriously, not only as the superintendent, but as a father of a current student.”
“As we prepare for reopening schools, we will continue to evaluate how to best meet the learning needs of all our students. Ultimately, we hold the health and safety of our students, staff, and community members as the highest priority,” said Assistant Superintendent Jay Homan. “We will continue to monitor the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as we make plans for the coming school year. In addition to the in-person school environment, we are providing a virtual learning opportunity for students. Our detailed framework is posted on our website which outlines our specific protocols for in-person instruction and the Morgan Virtual option.”
However, the virtual option may not be feasible for students from rural parts of the county where broadband access is limited or non-existent. According to Homan, the school system’s “WiFi buses” will not be utilized unless the pandemic worsens and schools are forced to shutdown entirely again.
“Since we are providing in-person instruction, we will only deploy the buses for remote internet access if we have to temporarily close schools due to a substantial spread in Morgan County,” explained Homan.
According to the latest enrollment numbers, students opting for the virtual learning plan as follows: 5.5 percent of kindergartners, 9.1 percent of first-graders, 10.3 percent of second-graders, 6.2 percent of third-graders, 6 percent of fourth-graders, 7.6 percent of fifth-graders, 5.7 percent of sixth-graders, 12 percent of seventh-graders, 6.5 percent of eighth-graders, 7.2 percent of ninth-graders, 7.9 percent of 10th-graders, 7.2 percent of
Since a total of 84 percent of Morgan County students are slated to return to school in person on Aug. 6, the school system has devised several new safety strategies to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
School officials are strongly encouraging, but not requiring, students and teachers to wear masks while in school and while riding the school bus. To limit contact between students, breakfast and lunch will be served inside individual classrooms, outside or with a limited number of students in the cafeteria. All schools facilities are adopting “enhanced cleaning” routines to disinfect high-traffic areas. Hand sanitizer stations will be installed throughout hallways and classrooms throughout each school. While water fountains will be cleaned and sanitized regularly, students and teachers are encouraged to bring their own water bottles to reduce contact. Assemblies will be split up for smaller groups of students and field trips will be limited. All non-essential visitors, volunteers and activities will also be limited.
Sick students, teachers and staff are required to stay home. Rooms inside each school will be designated to isolate students or teachers exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus.
According to Dr. Cole, school protocols could change as the pandemic changes.
“We are taking it day by day as we do our best to keep everyone safe,” said Cole.