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All county students, teachers to receive free ‘Chromebooks’ for online learning

County school board members still unsure about plans for fall classes and events

Letcher County Schools have ordered Chromebook computers for every student and every teacher to allow for online learning as the district tries to cope with challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Superintendent Denise Yonts still had no recommendation to make to the Letcher County Board of Education for when school will start.

“We’re looking at mid-August or late August,” she said at the board’s regular meeting Monday night.

Officials are attempting to navigate conflicting information about safety standards and predictions of a second wave of virus cases in the fall, when experts say the first wave isn’t over yet. Plans must be approved by the health department as well, officials said.

Yonts said district staff members are still working through possible solutions, but “things are changing daily.”

She said the district has to meet five standards before the health department will allow it to reopen schools — maintaining social distancing, frequent hand washing and surface hygiene, universal cloth face coverings, daily temperature checks, and helping the local health department with contact tracing if a student or staff member tests positive for the virus.

At this point, Yonts said the district is still planning rotating schedules with some students attending school on Mondays and Wednesdays, and doing virtual learning on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The rest will attend school on Tuesdays and Thursdays and do virtual learning on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The district will also offer the option of students doing all of their lessons via the Internet at home.

“Right now, it’s going to be really dependent on what options our parents choose,” she said. “We are trying to give our parents the options because we know there are so many fears and worries, as well as students with health conditions.”

Yonts said she has talked with the health department weekly, and had it look at plans for best practices for some sports practices that have started back up.

“I get so many questions about athletics, which is heartbreaking,” Board Member Robert Kiser said. “Too many parents are more worried about athletics than they are about education.”

Kiser also questioned how the two-days-on, three-days off schedule will work when both parents work in so many families. Yonts said that’s something district planners are still working on. She said with the new laptops and virtual learning, students can access class lectures and homework any time, including nights or weekends.

Kiser also questioned whether the district can “get back to sort of normal” even if a vaccine is created.

“All they really tell us is until a vaccine or a cure … the best way to stop the spread of is to social distance, wear a mask and wash their hands,” Yonts said.

Kiser agreed, saying that even with a vaccine, there is no guarantee that the schools can return to normal.

“Viruses mutate so easily, I’m not so sure that even if we get a vaccination for this one, in three months it might mutate into something that that vaccination is no longer good for,” he said.

Board Chairman Will Smith said he is seeing more and more parents as restrictions on businesses loosen and people are getting out in the community more. All of them, he said, have questions about what the board is going to do.

“It’s hard to give them any answers because we don’t have any answers,” Smith said. “We can tell them what we’re looking at and some of the answers, but till September rolls around, we don’t know,”

He said the fact is that there are “no good options, but we want to come up with the best option we possibly can.”

Yonts said educators have learned “a lot of valuable lessons” from the spring semester, when students were sent home to stay in March. Among those lessons is a need for more video of teachers instructing so students can view it anytime.

She said the two-day schedule will also allow students to have “some continuity” and allow teachers to address any issues student may be having with their lessons while at home.

Later in the meeting, the board approved the annual order allowing the superintendent to do whatever is necessary to open schools in the fall.

Also at the board meeting Monday, Yonts announced the retirement of Letcher County Central High School Principal Gracie Maggard and the appointment of Scottie Billiter as principal at the school.

Billiter holds a doctorate in education and has been assistant principal at the school since it opened. He was principal of the old Letcher High School before its consolidation with Fleming Neon High School and Whitesburg High School.

The board approved a contract with Kentucky River District Health Department for school nurses, and a memorandum of agreement with Mountain Comprehensive Community Care for mental health services.

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