The Walton County Board of Education is considering how to reopen this fall and recently looked at the results of a system-wide survey to determine the best path forward.
Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, health precautions and state restrictions are expected whenever students return, and deciding how to navigate that minefield faced the board as they met Tuesday at its monthly work session.
Callen Moore, public information officer for the Walton County School District, said the system received 5,100 responses to the online survey, mostly from parents.
Some of the responses faced a bit of online bias, given the survey was offered digitally — 95% of respondents said they had a reliable internet connection and 78% said they had devices at home to connect to digital learning without the need of school-provided Chromebooks; numbers which clearly could not represent the entire school population.
But the numbers were clear that parents wanted to return to school sooner rather than later, even if took online connectivity to do so.
“Sixty percent said they’d prefer starting with distance learning rather than postpone school,” Moore said. “Another 69% prefer shortening breaks than going into June.”
Across the board, Moore said, respondents were happier with shorter holidays for fall break and Thanksgiving than pushing into the summer months to finish the school year.
“You throw the word June out and suddenly fall break isn’t so important,” Superintendent Nathan Franklin said.
The district is currently drafting numerous calendar options to handle the different expectations the next school year may have depending on the coronavirus and the health guidelines needed to hold it at bay.
“Some things are just not possible to do,” Franklin said. “We don’t have the number of buses to run the routes if we have to social distance on every route. If we have to split a classroom in half across two rooms, how is a teacher supposed to watch over all the students in two different spaces, assuming we have an extra classroom to spare?”
But Franklin and the school board would prefer to see students back in the classroom to ensure quality instruction can resume, rather than return to distance learning in the fall.
“There’s really three plans,” Franklin said. “Plan A is to start back in August with kids in the classroom. Plan B was going to be postpone the school year a few weeks, but now it might be to start with distance learning, while postponing school may fall back to Plan C. We’re still looking at all our options.”