By Emily Williams and Caroline Rice
Though coronavirus responses related to schools are subject to change daily, one thing is certain: many high school students will be learning through an online platform during the fall 2020 semester.
Parents have pushed for learning options that offer different levels of online and in-person instruction.
Hoover City Schools has proposed three learning options for students and parents to choose, in addition to four contingency plans that are based on worsening health condition scenarios.
The in-person learning plan option allows for full-time school on campus when operating in contingency level one or two. However, when raised to contingency level three, students would go to campus only two days a week, either Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday. They would learn remotely for the other three days. If raised to contingency level four, students would learn fully online.
The in-person learning plan allows Hoover teachers to use the local Hoover curriculum.
The virtual learning plan option allows for a full-time virtual school that takes place at home. Students who choose this option will be communally connected to their zoned schools, but their teachers will instruct them through a digital curriculum.
Pre-K through 8th grade students can switch from virtual to in-person learning at the end of the first nine weeks, but high schoolers cannot change until the end of the semester.
The final learning option proposed for Hoover students is called a blended plan. This allows students to learn part-time virtually and part-time in person. Students can then continue in-person instruction in areas of particular interest that cannot be supported in the virtual format.
Hoover City Schools says that this has been an option for high schoolers for years, but it is now an option for middle schoolers as well.
While Hoover City Schools officials cannot make an announcement this early on what level they are planning to begin. They have pushed back the first day of school from Aug. 6 to Aug. 20. In addition, students from Pre-K through second grade are highly encouraged to wear masks, and students from grades 3 through 12 are required to wear masks.
Homewood City Schools is offering two learning options: traditional school and virtual school. Students who choose the traditional school option can switch to virtual at any time, but if the student chooses virtual, the student is committed to it for the semester.
Homewood also has four levels of operation, in which they will determine the level of operation according to recommendations from local health departments as well as data from community and schools.
Some of the categories that the level of operation will determine include extracurricular activities, large group gatherings, entering and exiting the building, and teaching and learning.
Homewood city schools will require students to wear masks where social distancing is not possible.
On July 30, Mountain Brook City Schools announced an adjusted reopening plan, postponing the start of the 2020-21 school year from Aug. 11 to Aug. 20.
In a release, Superintendent Dicky Barlow noted that the postponement will allow more time for the school system to train employees, prepare buildings and finalize reopening logistics.
In addition, junior high and high school students who selected the traditional school option over virtual learning will be assigned to one of two groups. Each group will alternate the day of the week they attend school to limit the number of students in the building each day.
On days when a students’ group is studying from home, they will be provided with assignments developed by their teachers to complete at home in addition to using an e-learning program.
Elementary school students in grades Pre-K through 6th who chose the traditional learning option over virtual will spend all five weekdays at school. Students in grades 4 through 6 who traditionally rotate classrooms throughout the day will now remain in one classroom to lower the risk of cross-contamination.
Extended day programs will not be offered for the first nine weeks of the year.
Facial coverings will be required for all employees and students, but the schools plan “mask breaks” throughout the day, during which students can take off their masks for a bit as long as they are six feet apart.
Vestavia Hills City Schools officials have delayed the start of classes by a week and now will open Aug. 20.
The system will continue to offer both virtual and traditional formats, according to Superintendent Todd Freeman, however on-site instruction protocols have been adjusted.
Students in pre-K through fifth grade will continue to meet every day of the week.
Grades six through 12 will be broken into two groups that are placed on an alternating schedule throughout the week, spending one day on campus and the next day off campus to reduce the number of people present at schools each day.
According to a statement from the Vestavia Hills City Schools released last week, 18% of students at that time had enrolled in remote instruction for the first semester.
Vestavia High Principal Tyler Burgess will move from that role to become principal of the remote learning model because of the large number of online students. As a result, Liberty Park Middle School Principal Tonya Rozell will become VHHS principal, and LPMS Assistant Principal Roger Dobnikar will be interim principal of LPMS for the 2020-21 school year.
With circumstances changing by the minute, State Superintendent Eric Mackey is giving local school systems some flexibility, encouraging them to adjust their policies based on community needs. Local school systems are anticipating many logistical changes between now and the start of school.