August 2, 2020 1:00:15 AM
Classes will start Aug. 24 in the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District, Superintendent Eddie Peasant announced Friday, instead of Aug. 6 as originally planned, in order to prepare teachers for an unexpectedly high number of students who will learn through the district's virtual option.
About 2,000 students had signed up for either fully virtual or "hybrid" learning -- where students would split time between in-person and virtual learning -- before July 21, and the district has received more than 1,000 more requests since then from parents wanting to switch their children to those models, Peasant said in a press release. Some students have also requested to switch from virtual or hybrid learning back to traditional, and as of Friday, more than 40 percent of students will be in all virtual or hybrid learning environments, district spokeswoman Nicole Thomas said.
The district had only been prepared to accommodate 25 percent of students as virtual learners due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Peasant said.
"Our schools need the additional time to prepare," he said in the press release. "We do not have the capacity to offer live or recorded virtual instruction to 40-plus percent of our students."
The district announced in July that families could choose whether to sign their children up for virtual or in-person learning, with grades 8-12 having the option of a hybrid environment. Hybrid learning was initially an option for only grades 10-12, but the district recently decided to allow it also for grades 8 and 9, Thomas said.
Teachers will return to their classrooms on Aug. 17, and the district will spend the next two weeks training "a core group of teachers who will build instructional learning modules to share with their colleagues."
Some teachers will conduct all their instruction virtually, Peasant said.
Even with the increase in virtual learning requests, the district is finding it difficult to create distances of even three feet in some classrooms, he added.
Open house events and schedule distribution at SOCSD schools will be delayed two weeks.
SOCSD is the second area district to postpone its start date. The Lowndes County School District board voted Monday to move its start date to Sept. 1.
Peasant said the school year might extend into June 2021 in order to meet the 180-day academic year requirement, unless the Mississippi Department of Education grants his request for a waiver.
"This is a difficult time for all of us, and it will only become more difficult if we fail our teachers, staff, students and families with a premature return to the classroom," Peasant said.
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