Highland Schools Make Fridays Virtual Only Through October
If there’s one consistency in the current times, it’s that very few things can be consistent for any length of time, as new problems arise, and plans require modification. The Highland County School Board wrestled with this reality during their October meeting as they pondered changes to the in-person school schedule.
The system began the year with two options, in-person 5 days a week or virtual. As of the time of the meeting, the elementary school had 71 in person students and 21 virtual, the middle and high school had 64 in person and 30 virtual.
Now the school administration was recommending that the in-person schedule be modified to 4 days in person, with Friday being a virtual day. The driving rationale behind this was the extra work and stress being put on the teaching staff having to deal with both methods. As explained by the administration and IT personnel, the platform chosen for virtual learning, called Canvas, was promised to come with a robust curriculum – however, the reality once in use was that content was lacking, especially for non-core classes, and what content was there was geared towards the end of the year – in essence, the time students missed this past spring. Therefore, teachers were forced to create and upload their own content, in addition to the planning for in-person learning, and made further difficult by the need to spend extra time cleaning and maintaining distancing protocols. The kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade classes required a split because social distancing measures could not be maintained due to class size. Several teachers described their issues, either at the meeting or via statement, and urged the change. The administration was passionate in advocating for their staff, saying this was not intended as “time-off” or a break – this was needed to allow teachers the time needed to assure quality education by using that day to create virtual content, plan for the following week, provide remediation, and ease the personal burdens of extra work hours. It was also noted that Highland Children’s House Daycare had offered a rate of $15 per day if working parents needed an option for childcare on those Fridays.
The Board listened to teachers and speakers in attendance, and considered several options, including shortening the day. The administration admitted that shortening the day would provide some help, from a personal standpoint, but that it truly wasn’t productive time the teachers could use for creation and planning.
Citing conversations she had had with parents concerned about the length of the school day for younger children, Board chair Sherry Sullenberger made a motion to reduce the school day by a half-hour, with release at 3:00 p.m. – this passed 2-1, with vice-chair Joe Neil in opposition. Member Kenny Hodges then made a motion to change Fridays to virtual learning, beginning Friday, October 9th, and continuing through the rest of the month until the Board’s next meeting November 2nd, where they will re-evaluate – this passed unanimously.
Mr. Neil then made a motion to move the end of the school day back to 3:30, citing the problems it would create in re-arranging the class and bell schedules, as well as the comments from parents in attendance who said the 3:00 would create a greater hardship. This motion passed unanimously as well.