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After two lengthy meetings, the Alexander Local Schools Board of Education voted on Thursday night to begin the school year online.

The decision was not an easy one for the Board, during Thursday’s special meeting, the Board heard over four hours of public comment on the topic. Parents, staff members and community members all spoke prior to the Board’s vote. In total over 700 people logged in to view the live-streamed meeting, in addition to those in attendance at the school.

Many that spoke voiced their worries over students not having access to the internet at their homes. The Board reassured the audience that the district is aware of the technical problems that many face. The school is currently is equipped with a Chromebook for each student and are working on securing hotspots for those who need one. In addition, the district has outfitted the school buses with WiFi and will be scheduling times for the buses to park at various locations throughout the district to allow families to park nearby the buses, connect to the WiFi and download any needed assignments.

Athens City-County Health Department Administrator Jack Pepper stated that online learning remained the safest option for returning to school.

Alexander School Health Clinic Nurse Teresa Stalder echoed this sentiment, stating that on an average day the Health Clinic will see 75 students, 40% of whom exhibit COVID-19 symptoms such as the sniffles or a sore throat. Students showing COVID-19 symptoms would be sent home from school. For this reason and others, Stalder feels that remote learning is the best path forward.

Most striking perhaps, was a high-risk 8th-grade student who called in to speak to the board.

“I have hearing loss and juvenile arthritis both due to viruses. My immune system is compromised and both I and my grandparents are high risk. I have many concerns about returning to school...Unfortunately, it is inevitable that some one will get sick. What do we do then? I really want to come back to school, and I’m really looking forward to my 8th-grade year but I don’t want to put my friends, family, and teachers at risk...how do we return to school safely when we are fearing for our lives?” the student asked.

Ultimately the Board voted to adopt Plan D, one of the four options detailed in the reopening plan discussed by the Board at the July 15 meeting. The four options were:

  • Plan A – Five days a week. All staff and students will report to the school.
  • Plan B – Four days a week. Students will be in session in school on campus Tuesday through Friday. Monday will be a remote learning day. Staff will report all five days.
  • Plan C – Blended. Two days a week, students will be in class. The days students are not in school at the building will be remote learning days. Remote learning days will be via Google classroom, Zoom, assignments and other items listed in the remote learning plan. Students will attend Monday/Tuesday Cohort Red or Thursday/Friday Cohort Black. Students’ homeroom class and schedules will be posted by Aug. 14. We will place families in the same cohort.
  • Plan D – Remote learning all five days. All staff report all five days.

A motion was put forth by Board Member Blake Regan to adopt the reopening plan with revisions to be made later. The Board voted unanimously in favor of adopting the reopening plan.

Board Member Lucy Juedes then moved to accept Plan D, with the provision that the decision is for the first nine weeks, at that point the Board will reassess the COVID-19 situation in the community.

A vote was called, Board Members Juedes, Josh Collins and Regan voted yes, Board Members Jay Barnes and Fred Davis voted no.

“Our staff and our people, we need to listen to (them). They’re telling us it’s too much, it’s too fast. We need to start reserved,” Collins said.

Students will begin the 2020/2021 school year online on Aug. 31. Further details will be discussed at the next regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting on Aug. 19 at 7 p.m.

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