Some concern was raised at Monday’s Tallapoosa County Board of Education meeting about accountability with virtual learning options but acting superintendent Ray Porter assured board members plenty of planning and guidelines will be in place to best serve those students.

“There are three options for the return to school in August: bricks and mortar, blended and virtual,” Porter said. “In the spring, we were not prepared, the state I mean, not prepared for a pandemic and a shutdown of schools. When we talk about a virtual assignment beginning this fall, it will not remotely look like what took place in the spring. We will attack all critical standards at every grade level and students will be graded as if they were in school only they will be using a virtual component.” 

Parents of Tallapoosa County Schools’ students have until July 24 to decide which educational route they want their children to take.

While Porter and Tallapoosa County Schools administration feel bricks and mortar is the best option for learning, parents will have the opportunity to choose their preference. 

“The blended option is if a child need to leave short term for quarantine, they start the blended option,” Porter said. “They started bricks and mortar and while quarantining, they do some things remotely.”

For the virtual component, students have to sign up and will remain in the virtual component for one semester minimum. The reason for this is because the virtual and bricks and mortar components may differ on pacing.

“At this point we do have 86 students signed up for virtual,” Porter said. “It doesn’t look like we’re being overwhelmed but we do have students choosing this option.”

Porter also said there will still be an attendance policy for virtual students and a required pacing guide. Teachers will reach out to virtual students regularly to check their progress. Students also will be assigned Chromebooks. 

“But if we’re not in the home with the child, that is one of the downfalls of virtual systems,” Porter said. “We cannot hand hold the student and walk them through the process. We will reach out to students but when they’re at home, there’s some parent responsibility.”

When asked by board member Matilda Hamilton about students’ progress during the last few weeks of school and summer, Porter said the Alabama State Department of Education did not file a state report card this past year due to COVID-19 related closures.

“We’re basically skipping a year for state reporting,” Porter said.

For children falling behind, there are after-school tutoring programs but Porter said there will be no tutoring or entering individual students’ homes.

For bricks-and-mortar education, Tallapoosa County Schools will abide by a 3-foot by 3-foot spacing and faculty is in the process of removing unnecessary tables and furniture from classrooms to allow for extra room. Students’ temperatures will be taken twice a day and alterations to eating breakfast and lunch will be made to accommodate spacing.

“For buses, we’re going to seat students according to sitting with family members but we do not have the bussing to do one and skip,” Porter said.

In terms of sanitation, floor sanitizers will be used before and after each school day, backpack sprayers will spray an entire classroom in two minutes and teachers will likely change classrooms as opposed to students.

“We’re focused on the kids and employees safely returning to school and working with the school systems and the guidelines we put together,” Tallapoosa County commissioner T.C. Coley said. “We want to make sure kids and faculty come back to school in an orderly fashion. There are a lot of different strategies out there so please be patient as we work through this process. This is something none of us has been dealing with before, so let’s remain open with communication. We will make some mistakes along the way because we haven’t seen this before.”

In other news, the Tallapoosa Board of Education:

Approved a motion to allow Ray Porter to serve as acting superintendent for the purpose of this meeting

Approved June 29 meeting minutes

Denied an out-of-district placement request made at the June meeting

Approved payment of bills and the monthly financial report for June

Approved child nutrition wellness policy

Approved Medicaid administrative claim contract

Approved two resignations and two employments

Approved probationary principal contract for Reeltown Elementary School effective July 1 until June 20, 2022

Approved a contract with East Alabama Medical Center for a contract mental health specialist to rotate around the schools; time spent will be determined by the number of students at each school

Approved the child nutrition meal charge police changes and updates allowing students to charge meals if they have insufficient funds to pay for breakfast and/or lunch

Amy Passaretti is a staff writer with the Alexander City Outlook.