Message from Baldwin County Public Schools Superintendent Eddie Tyler shared on August 9, 2020:
Good evening parents,
I hope you have enjoyed this beautiful weekend.
I've done my best to stay out of your inbox over the last couple of weeks but as we approach the last few days before school, I've got a long email of items I need to cover with you. Please continue to stay in touch with your local school principals and teachers for updates specific to your children.
Parents, I would expect that the first week of school will be a slow start. We intentionally moved the start of school this year to Wednesday. We expected a short week would help us deal with some orientation and back-to-school stress on a shorter schedule. I would expect that because of the new digital classroom technology, as well as the coronavirus protocols, things will probably move even slower. Set your expectations accordingly and give everyone a couple of weeks, maybe even until Labor Day, to get everything back into full swing.
Parents of Virtual School students, this applies even more specifically to you. We will be operating two of the largest schools in the state, virtually. There are challenges in scaling this up quickly and I have directed our staff to be more concerned about getting it right than doing it fast. There are not just challenges for our staff but also for you, the new Virtual School parents. Virtual School will be very different than traditional school. It will require a lot of self-directed work from your children, discipline and when necessary, mom and dad's involvement to sit by them and make sure things are going well. Give yourself a little patience and time to get used to this as well.
Please remember that all students second grade and above will be wearing masks or face shields. The mask must cover their nose and mouth. The face shield must cover from their forehead to just below their chin. They will be wearing them in our classrooms, as we transition, when they come on campus and as they depart our campus. There are provisions where they can remove their masks while they are performing certain functions and tasks including eating, answering questions or participating in activities.
Please remember that if your child has a fever, is showing symptoms of the coronavirus or if you have a family member in your home who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, please do not send your child to school. Please contact your local school principal or teacher so we can make sure your child does not get behind.
There have been a lot of questions about distance learning and specifically the difference between distance learning and Virtual School. Let me first say there is always the possibility we could go to 100% distance learning. There is no specific metric. I don't have a set number of students that must be sick, leave campus or be absent. This decision will come from a combination of factors including levels of contagion, growth in contagion, hospital capacity, mortality rates by age group and in general. The needs of our community and employers include our critical support hospitals, doctor’s offices, courts and law enforcement. This is a decision that will be made by a team of people including myself and our senior staff, health professionals, doctors and other local and state leaders.
If we go to distance learning, it will be very different than what we experienced last spring. We have invested in new software and our teachers have been trained on how to set up a digital learning environment on day one in their classroom. We are also able to provide learning opportunities to students who may have to be out of school while dealing with a COVID-19 diagnosis. Our distance learning program can be used on a student by student basis or it can be activated for an entire school or system.
If we go to distance learning, everyone from traditional school to Virtual School will go to distance learning. Virtual School children will have already been in the virtual classroom and moving along in their selected software programs with support from their virtual teaching units. Traditional school students will transition into this digital environment quickly enough that they will not fall behind and keep in-step with their class level pacing guide.
Let's talk about the Virtual School registration for tomorrow and going forward.
Tomorrow morning, at 9 a.m., we will reopen Virtual School registration. If you want to enroll your child for Virtual School, please head to Baldwinvirtual.com. From there, navigate to either K-6 elementary or 7-12 secondary’s Virtual School page where you can find a link in the top header to apply now. Enrollment will remain open until we reach capacity at which time, the links will no longer work, and you will be directed to a message telling you enrollment has been closed.
I hope by opening up tomorrow's registration we will be able to provide space for those who are concerned about their family's health. We feel it is important to do this now, as opposed to waiting through the next two weeks.
I have been asked many times this summer where I would send my children. Having had the opportunity to visit our schools over the last week, I can tell you without question, I would enroll them in traditional school. Because of the reduction in enrollment and the excitement among so many of our teachers, this may well be one of the best years we've had in Baldwin County education.
For those of you who are disappointed in our decision to reduce the two-week transfer period, I'm sorry. While I am concerned about the health and safety of our families, I am also concerned about the quality of education I promised we would provide to these families in Virtual School. You see, I didn't just make one promise about transfers, I made multiple promises including keeping families working, keeping children safe, giving families a choice and delivering a high-quality experience. We've been fighting hard to deliver on all of these. Rest assured this has been a very difficult challenge for us, but we’re not done.
For those who care to know, the problem we have had to confront is the availability of teachers. We have been hiring new teachers since the beginning of the summer and unfortunately, we have reached the point where there are simply no more applicants.
We are also constrained by state law, specifically the teacher tenure law known as Students First, which prohibits school systems from transferring teachers as we see fit, at any time. We have worked with many of our tenured teachers who have willingly transferred to the virtual program and we are grateful, but in the end, we had to make some choices.
Over the last week, we have seen a number of families withdraw their child from Virtual School and send them back into our traditional buildings. This has given us capacity to open enrollment for new families who may not have made this decision before the deadline expired.
We have heard from enough parents to indicate that this trend may continue. As a result, we are exploring a waitlist program which would give families an opportunity to transfer into Virtual School after Monday's deadline, should capacity allow. We are going to evaluate this after we close Virtual School enrollment on Monday, and I will have more to say about this later in the week. For now, Virtual School enrollment will end with Monday’s extended opportunity.
Folks, I am super excited about school opening this week. Thousands of hours have been spent making our schools safe, preparing our supplies and procedures, creating academic and enrollment programs, while maintaining a high standard of education. It has been tiring, but the old coach in me knows it's game time and we're ready for kick-off. I'm certain we'll have some adjustments in the first quarter and likely at halftime too.
I want you to know we love your children, we love your families, and I believe we are doing the absolute best we can. I'm happy to take your emails and all the criticism you have but I ask just one thing of our parents. Please give your teachers and local school administrators as much love, support, kindness and patience as you can. They will be on the front lines of bringing your children's lives back to normal, protecting them and bringing them the excellent education you expect from our system.
Thank you so very much for trusting us with your children and I look forward to seeing so many of them as I am out in the schools on Wednesday!