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UNUSUAL SCHOOLING: Teachers welcome back kids today

David Adlerstein
The Apalachicola Times

There’s no doubt about it, when school starts tomorrow, it’s going to be one small step for students, one giant unusual leap for Franklin County education.

Flexible. Interesting, Trial and error. Challenging.

Those were some of the terms used by a handful of elementary school teachers to describe how they would characterize the year,

Masks will be required when social distancing can’t be practice. They’ll be arrows on walkways directing how students will walk. Elementary students at both the Franklin County Schools and the Apalachicola Bay Charter School will remain in the same classroom most of the day, including eating their meals there.

Teachers know they will have to spend the first several weeks getting on handle on how far ahead, or behind, their students are, following the state’s decision in mid-March to end in-person teaching and rely entirely on virtual learning, a method that most concede had an effect on teachers being able to reach as many of their students’ learning needs as usual.

Some students, of course, still won’t be on the campuses, as their parents have opted either for homeschooling or the virtual learning option.

At ABC these students, for the most part, will be tuned directly into their classrooms, just not there physically. At Franklin, teachers have been assigned to handle the online learning.

Superintendent Traci Yoder said earlier this week that 158 or the 909 students enrolled in the Franklin County Schools’ Kindergarten through 12th grade, and alternative education program, or about 17 percent, have opted for the innovative e- learning digital option.

Most of these are high schoolers, although there are 11 eighth graders, 13 sixth graders and 10 fourth graders in that group, with the remainder in single digits scattered throughout the age groups.

Some programs, such as career and technical programs like welding, medical, drones, and culinary arts will only be offered on campus.

In addition to morning temperature checks at both schools, before kids board the buses or when they arrive by car to school, one big difference will be the eating of meals in classrooms, particularly for elementary students.

Franklin County is offering breakfast and lunch for our distance learners at both schools. A three-day meal pack can be picked up on Mondays and Thursdays between 12:30 and 1 p.m., where a cafeteria staff member will be at the front of the schools to distribute meals. A parent can pick up for a student with student ID information; meals do have to be picked at the school the student is enrolled in, said Shelley Ingram, who is in charge of the district’s food service program.

Based on a July 6 state order that required the opening of schools, “while also providing equally as pivotal flexibilities that directly prioritize health and safety and benefit families, school districts and schools,” the district has agreed to seven assurances as part of its reopening plan.

These assurances include agreeing that all brick and mortar schools are open at least five days per week for all students, and that they provide the full array of services that are required by law. These include in-person instruction, specialized instruction for students with an Individual Educational Plan and those services required for vulnerable populations, such as students from low-income families, students of migrant workers, students who are homeless, students with disabilities, students in foster care, and students who are English language learners.

In addition, the district must provide robust progress monitoring to all students; tiered support must be provided to all students who are not making adequate progress. To do so, the district pledges to work to determine needed services, including compensatory services for students with disabilities.

They'll be signs indicating six feet of social distancing, and arrows to mark directions, in the walkways at Franklin County Schools. Showing how it works are, clockwise from front left, Chuck Syverson, dean of students; Lacey Hamm, elementary virtual school teacher for grades three through five; Erin Paulk, fourth grade paraprofessional; Shelley Ingram, food service director; Mallory Calloway, fourth grade teacher; Morgan Mock, high school ESE paraprofessional; and Temolynn Wintons, elementary music teacher.

The district has to share its progress monitoring data regularly with the state.

In drafting its reopening plan, Yoder said, she and the school board had to determine how parents that desire in-person instruction for their children can be accommodated. To do so, they had to take into account the student capacity of the school, the number of students who requested in-person instruction and the numbers for which such instruction could not be accommodated and the reasons why.

ABC School pre-Kindergartner Hudson Hathcock demonstrates the face shield that may be worn, in lieu of his mask, in the classroom.

“Our families count on our public education system for critical specialized services. Our schools not only provide educational services, we also provide additional support services for student’s social-emotional and physical health needs,” said Yoder. “Some of our students may be experiencing trauma, food insecurity, and lack of health services in their homes, many of whom were already struggling to close the achievement gap.

“These are urgent circumstances and we must provide support to our students and families,” she said. “While this new way of work and life are quite an adjustment for all of us, we will work through it together. My staff and I have worked for the last few months planning and preparing to safely reopen our campuses. Alongside our school and district administration, our school board, and the health department, we have worked in partnership to develop procedures and protocols to safely reopen our schools,” Yoder said. “We are making decisions to give our students the best educational experience possible and to provide other specialized services under conditions that support the safety of our students, staff, and families. As parents and guardians, you have learning options for your children, and we are here to help provide guidance and offer our assistance in selecting the best learning option for your child.

“While we may not know what the future holds, we do know that we will face it together. My staff and I along with our school board, our school administration, and our faculty and staff are here to support you every step along the way,” Yoder said. “I am blessed to serve alongside the most dedicated, passionate, and committed faculty and staff to support our children and families in Franklin County. We have missed seeing everyone around our campuses and are excited to welcome you all back for the 2020-21 school year.”

Franklin County third grade teachers, from left, Cheyenne Hartzog, Katrina Ham, paraprofessional Brittany Millender and Melody Hatfield are ready to greet their students Friday
ABC School Chimene Johnson demonstrates on fifth grader Bella Polous how staff will take temperature readings.
ABC School second grade teacher Katie Bergthold kneels next to one of the blue social distancing spots that now adorn the hallway floor.