By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
With the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 health pandemic, Birmingham City Schools (BCS) is offering students, teachers and parents four different learning options for the upcoming school year, which begins August 24.
Parents can begin registering students July 20.
During a virtual press conference from the Board of Education building downtown on Friday, Dr. Mark Sullivan, BCS interim superintendent, said each option is dependent upon the severity of the pandemic as the opening of the school year nears.
The options include remote learning, blended learning, traditional learning and virtual.
The remote, blended and traditional learning options depend on whether the number of cases continue to increase or decrease and will be decided by the superintendent and school board, said Dr. Jermaine Dawson, Academic Officer, BCS. The fourth option is strictly up to parents, he added.
“Birmingham City Schools will be guided by the advice of public health experts and scientists making decisions,” Dawson said.
The system will consider the remote or totally online option based on the number and risk [of COVID-19 cases] based on data from health officials. If the remote or online option is chosen because of the severity of the pandemic, students and teachers will stay at home and all instruction will take place online.
The blended option will consist of a combination of remote and in-class instruction and activities for students, Dawson said. This option will be used if the current risk factor from health professionals is moderate.
All students in Pre-K through 12th grade will be taught by a BCS teacher and will be divided into two groups.
“One group of students will have face-to-face or traditional style learning on Monday and Tuesday, and a second set of students will have the same style of learning on Thursday and Friday. Each group will have three days of remote learning,” Dawson said. “Wednesdays and Saturdays will be dedicated to deep cleaning days for all of our facilities.”
If the traditional option of face-to-face instruction is selected students and teachers are expected to wear masks.
The traditional model will only happen if there is a significant decline in the number and intensity of positive COVID-19 cases and if health officials advise BCS that the risk is low.
“Students and teachers will practice social distancing and there will be ongoing deep cleaning and disinfecting of all of our facilities,” Dawson said.
The virtual option is up to parents.
“Students participating in this option will be taught by BCS teachers and will be required to remain in the BCS virtual school until the end of the nine-week period,” Dawson said. “We want to make sure [for parents who] decide to choose the BCS virtual option — there is a lot of work that has gone into this . . . all of our students will receive a high quality education, that is our first priority, that is our only priority,” said Dawson.
When it comes to the virtual learning options for students who remain at home, Sullivan said the system is prepared to work with those less than 7,000 BCS students who do not have internet access. About 25,000 students attend BCS.
“We will have devices for every student but having a device in and of itself doesn’t do a lot of good if you don’t have access to internet,” Sullivan said. “We are bringing to the Board of Education at our next meeting, a proposal to provide internet to those families who have indicated on our survey data that they do not have high-speed internet.
“Our goal is when school starts, whether it is traditional, blended or remote, all of our students will have a device and they will have connectivity that allows them to use the device and access all of our educational platforms,” he said.
BCS will begin virtual forums next week to share ideas with students, parents, educators and staff, BCS officials said.
“I’ve been a teacher and a principal and I’ve stood on the steps of the school waiting for teachers, parents and students to come in and see their smiling faces on the first day,” Sullivan said. “I know there is a lot of anxiety about what that may look like this year, but we want to hear from all of our stakeholders before we make any final decisions about the opening of schools.”
A virtual forum for everyone connect to the system will be held Thursday, July 23 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. To submit questions visit www.bhamcityschools.org.