Beacon School

Beacon School cook Lanae Lebeau serves lunch to a Beacon School student before the outbreak. The school will continue to deliver daily meals to students once the school year begins.

Students at Beacon School will begin the school year under a new hybrid learning model, which includes both distance and in-person instruction.

The Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities (ACBDD), which oversees Beacon School, announced the school’s plan following the Board’s meeting on Tuesday evening.

During the meeting, the Board was presented with three options for the start of the 2020/2021 school year. One option was to have all students return to school five days a week with “several new safety protocols.” A second option was to have fully online education. The third option, that was voted for unanimously by the Board, is for students to spend one full day at the school every other week, with the remaining days spent in virtual education.

Under the plan selected by the Board, Beacon School families also have the choice to do online only education.

“Many of our students have compromised immune systems, struggle with social distancing, and struggle with properly wearing personal protective equipment,” said Dr. Kevin Davis, ACBDD’s Superintendent. “They also struggle with online learning. Some face-to-face time is necessary for our students to receive their therapies and to work on their IEP goals. This option is a safe way for us to offer some of our services that are best provided in-person while also minimizing contact between students and staff.”

Under this new plan there will be one student per classroom each day, this totals only seven students ever in the school building at one time. In-person education will take place at Beacon School on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesday will be used for “deep cleaning” the building, as well as teacher preparations and check-ins.

“Remote learning for students of Beacon School can be especially challenging. While not ideal, the ACBDD determined it is the safest primary method of instruction at this time,” a release from ACBDD said.

The Board’s announcement states that the daily delivery of student’s breakfast and lunch at zero-cost to the families will be continued, per precedent set by the spring semester.

As the school year begins, the ACBDD will be reassessing the situation each month, to determine if the school needs to switch to online only, or if it is safe to increase the number of students in the building on a daily basis. To make these decisions, the ACBDD states that they will consult with the Athens City-County Health Department.

“The emphasis is on making this a slow and thoughtful process,” Davis said. “What we don’t want is to flip back and forth.”

In addition, the Board elected to monitor the Public Health Advisory Alert System, the statewide color coded system that monitors the state of the pandemic in each county. If Athens County reaches the highest level (Level 4 purple), Beacon School will suspend all in-person services conducted by ACBDD.

“Unless an exception is approved by the Superintendent, in-person services would not resume until the level changed back to Level 3 (Red) or lower,” the release said.

The release from the Board stressed the difficult decision that the Board and all schools across the country faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health Department Administrator Jack Pepper bolstered the decision of the Board.

“The safest way to return to school in the fall is in an online platform, as outlined by the CDC guidelines,” Pepper said.“That said, we understand there will be some exceptions to that rule, particularly with this population.”

In addition to the plan for beginning the school year, the Board also voted on Tuesday night to officially designate Juneteenth (June 19) as a paid holiday beginning in 2021.

“The ACBDD is committed to diversity and inclusion. We support of all of our staff members, all of the people we serve, and all members of the Athens community,” Davis wrote on a Facebook post announcing the change.

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. It commemorates the day that slavery was officially abolished in Texas, two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation outlawed slavery in 1863.

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