The Bald Knob School District’s choices for students for the 2020-21 school year will include allowing those who pick online schooling to attend an on-campus class in a subject they struggle with and a “free-of-charge home-school option.”

“If we have a student whose parents prefer [for the student] to be home most of the day but they know they really struggle in one specific content area, the parent can make the decision to bring that child to school for that one period they struggle in,” Superintendent Melissa Gipson said.

Students will have to designate before school starts during the pre-registration process being held in August if they want to choose that option and what class, if any, they want to come to school for, she said.

“We want to make sure we have consistent instruction for all students on-site and felt like that was a really great way to serve online students as well,” Gipson said.

The on-site option, like with other school districts because of COVID-19, will be blended learning, “where students will come and interact with their teachers and peers,” Gipson said. “They will work with an online platform so that whenever we need to pivot into remote learning, they’re very familiar with the platform and are able to acclimate to off-site learning easily.”

Parents who wish to home-school their child instead of choosing either of the other two options can also receive assistance from the district, Gipson said.

“If parents want to take advantage of the offering that the district has, we’ve provided a free-of-charge home school option where students can engage online with a curriculum and paper-base program where they can work online at their own pace with educators not from Bald Knob schools,” she said. “It is something that we feel like is a service to our community and our patrons.”

For students that prefer the on-site learning, there will still be a lot of changes to the school year due to the pandemic. For kindergarten through the fifth grade, all classes will stay in their home rooms all day with teachers rotating throughout the day. For sixth through 12th grades, they will be moving from eight class periods a day to four in order to limit the spread of the virus.

“That’s an added benefit because in the past we’ve been concerned if 45 minutes may not be enough, so we’re going to utilize this as an opportunity to take advantage of it to see if it works for us,” Gipson said.

There will be sanitization stations throughout the school buildings and all adults entering the building will have their temperatures checked before they can enter. Bald Knob also has created an “isolation building” for students to be transported to when they are found to have a 99.9 degree fever while at school.

“We’re really excited about that space,” Gipson said. “It’s set up where we have several rooms and we’ll be able to have some isolation while we work with parents to communicate the need for pickup.”

Lunch will also be different this semester as social distancing will take place during the period and fewer students will be in the cafeteria at a time.

“If we need to, students will have their meals served in the classroom,” Gipson said about a possible outbreak. “It’s not where we want to start, but it is where we can go if we see a need.”

Bald Knob has a variety of plans set in place in the event of an outbreak or increase in COVID-19 cases within the district, she said.

“We know the best thing for our kids is to get them in school, get them socializing and get them interacting with their teachers and peers,” Gipson said. “But if we see we are having an increase in cases and spread, we can move into a hybrid model which brings half of a class three days a week with the other three days being virtual learning. We will then have a day for cleaning and disinfecting and then we will have the other half of the class come the other two days of the week.”

For students who don’t have access to a computer or the internet, Bald Knob is planning on providing every student with a Chromebook, internet access and 24-hour tech support. The district has purchased Verizon MiFi devices for all students and will also purchase T-Mobile and AT&T WiFi devices from The governor if needed, Gipson said. Bald Knob’s technology coordinator, Tammi Dantoni, will make sure all students and families will have internet access.

“She’s going to drive to our outlying areas that don’t have WiFi access, take a Verizon device, see if there’s cellular accessibility there and if not, we are going to purchase another device that would pull in other carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile,” Gipson said. “So now when we get those devices, we’ll take those instead of purchasing something alternate.”

Gipson predicts that even after all of that, there will still be an estimated 10-12 families that will not be able to have internet access. For those students, Gipson has put into place a paper-based option.

“We really don’t want to offer a paper option for the benefit of the kids,” she said. “We feel like if we can get some interaction between the students and the teachers throughout the pandemic then that’s better than simply doing paper-base.”

Bald Knob is considering other options in the event that there is a need to go to paper-based learning or the need to close school again.

“We may try to offer some type of large venue setting for those students who just can’t get Wi-Fi access to them,” Gipson said. “Offer them to come to the school to a warm or cool space where they can work with internet throughout the day.”

Bald Knob schools will start back up Aug. 24.

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